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Lysine deficiency in Sparrows – the cause of their decline?

Over the decade and more that I have been taking in and rearing baby birds, I have noticed and recorded a lot of changes in the species I care for, notably the decline in Greenfinch numbers seen in rescue centres, the times of year that certain illness and ailments are waxing and waning, the calcium deficiency increase in Collared Doves, plus Trichomoniasis and Young Bird Sickness in Wood Pigeons and over the last few years, the decline in the feather condition of baby Sparrows.

This Year it has been particularly noticeable and we currently have approximately 10 Sparrows in care with feather condition too poor for release. The young birds will have to stay in care until they moult a new set of feathers, probably next Year.

When we first started seeing this condition I assumed that similarly to Collared Doves it was a calcium deficiency and thought little more of it, giving the birds extra vitamins and minerals in their food to compensate. Then, over the last few years there have been more and more coming in with tatty, brittle, white feathers and I really had to start giving the cause more thought. The more I began to think about it the more I realised it couldn’t be calcium deficiency because unlike Collared Doves which begin breeding as early as January in the Uk (due to a lack of adaptability from their breeding patterns in Southern Europe from where they originated) and end up with Vitamin D deficiencies and resulting calcium issues, Sparrows who are native and breed in May and June should not be having these issues as there is no lack of Vitamin D by then.

I began to follow the RSPB research on the decline of Sparrows, which are now a red listed species in the UK and a study in Leicester has found that “Starvation of chicks due to lack of invertebrate prey was found to be the main cause of high levels of chick mortality in a declining suburban sparrow population in Leicester”

So, if lack of invertebrate prey is the issue, then those that are able to keep their chicks alive are presumably supplementing with other foods, probably seed from bird feeders and this may be the problem. As most rehabbers will know, all baby birds (including finches who grow into adults that eat seeds) need insects when they are growing as they need higher levels of proteins than seeds can provide. This seed supplementing, if that is what is happening, is missing the vital amino acids that biosynthesise the proteins needed and is therefore leading to Achromatosis caused particularly by Lysine deficiency.

The same RSPB study in Leicester found that

  • Supplementary feeding of mealworms increased nesting success (fledglings produced per nesting attempt) by 55% in Leicester.
  • Supplementary feeding of mealworms at 66 colonies in London increased breeding success (by 62%) but only had a small positive impact on colony size (adult abundance). Additional supplementary feeding of seed had no impact on the abundance of fledglings or adult sparrows. There seemed to be plenty of unoccupied suitable nesting sites in the London study areas.

The fact that supplemental feeding of seed had no impact but that supplemental feeding of insects improved fledging success, will in the long term be the key to the survival of our Sparrows in my humble opinion, unless we are able to redress the decline of our native insect populations, and that is a whole new battle.

In the meantime, all we as rehabbers, can do is to take in the affected fledglings and feed them plenty of insects up to the point of weaning (after which it would have no effect due to the growth period stopping) and then feed a healthy diet until the next moult.


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Calcium Deficiency in Collared Doves

Young Collared Doves found in February/March are extremely prone to calcium deficiency in the UK, similar to what we would term rickets, in humans. Vitamin D from the Sun usually ensures that calcium levels are sufficient to enable the production of healthy bones and given that these birds historically bred in sub-tropical Asia, this wouldn’t have been a problem. However, since its arrival in the UK in the 1950’s this bird has become widespread throughout the Country but has not yet adapted its breeding patterns to reflect our far less sunny climate. The bird therefore begins to breed as early as January, leading to inevitable problems for the early offspring produced.

Whilst in the nest the lack of bone density is not noticeable, the chick is safe and fed by the parents. However, when the bird attempts to leave the nest and follow the parents as doves do, their legs and wings are not strong enough to do anything more than futter to the ground where they stay unable to fly and often even unable to walk.

The lucky birds are found, picked up and taken to a rescue centre where hopefully, the staff will know that this is an annual phenomenon and take appropriate actions. The severity of the disease can vary from year to year (depending on the harshness of the Winter) from a mild “rubbery” beak and weakness in the limbs to severely deformed and twisted legs. The most severely affected birds will often never be able to walk, even with temporary splints and should sadly be euthanised.

When the birds first arrive at our facility they are warmed up in an incubator or on a heatpad and once the temperature is stabilised, are given critical care, at body temperature, via a feeding tube (gavage). This can often be daunting as they have a tendency to regurgitate and often appear to “fit” for the first few feeds, so little and often is the key to prevent inhalation pneumonia.

We then begin to introduce Tropican Breeding Mash to their tube feeds, again at body temperature and also again, in small but frequent feeds dependent on the size and weight of the bird. If the bird is severely affected, adding a drop of liquid calcium to the feed can be beneficial but otherwise, the Tropican has everything in it that is needed.

Within a few days the bird should be showing signs of improvement and attempting to perch, usually on the side of a nest bowl and most go on to make a full recovery but may need feeding via gavage for longer than the same species born later in the Year. Don’t try to rush them into self feeding, they can only benefit from the minerals and nutrients in the Tropican.

These are 3 of our most recent intake during February 2017 which hasn’t seen too many severe cases coming into wildlife rescues. Ours are all are now awaiting some finer weather for release so it is worth putting in the time and effort.


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Delivery times – please read!

Please note that everything sold in this store is used by us here at Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue but because we are a busy working charity, especially during baby season, it can take up to 5 working days for us to dispatch items.

For the majority of the larger items (anything over “large letter” size) we use MyHermes Parcel delivery service which can take 3+ days for delivery.

We are not able to provide an “emergency” or “next day” delivery service on our items.

Please note these delivery times before ordering.

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Young Bird Sickness

This is a condition affecting Pigeons and Doves that has had devastating effects in wildlife centres around the UK over the last 2 – 3 years, particularly during the Autumn months. It is a combined sickness consisting of both virus and bacteria and is transmitted by air, dust and contact between birds. Symptoms are varied but often involve lethargy, fluffed up appearance, crop stasis, green/yellow faeces and vomiting.

Sadly, symptoms do not always precede sudden death and the problem with any condition involving a virus is that there is no treatment.

When the bird contracts the virus it weakens their liver and immune system allowing the secondary bacterial, fungal and protozoal infections to take hold, so all that can be done is to treat the secondary infections and boost the immunity of the bird so that it can fight the viral infection itself.

This is our current hospital treatment plan to try and save as many YBS birds as we can:-

  1. Isolate all incoming young Pigeons and Doves on arrival, especially in the Autumn months, ie September, October and November.
  1. Any birds with symptoms described above should be immediately treated with a broad spectrum antibiotic (Baytril, Marbocyl or Synulox as per the dose rates in our download), plus given a Spartrix tablet an Anti-Coccidia tablet and they should be wormed.
  1. A new product Harkers Wonder Pigeon has been released which improves the intestinal health of the pigeon by a selective non – pH dependant anti-bacterial effect and can be added to any drinking water and/or to any liquid food being tubed into the crop. Available here – Wonder Pigeon
  1. Hygiene is of paramount importance. Clean cages using veterinary disinfectant such as F10, Safe4 or Anigene.
  1. Carry out regular faecal sampling or ask a vet to help and continue to treat anything found in them.
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Hedgehogs – the importance of faecal sampling


Almost all Hedgehog rehabilitators now carry out faecal sampling on Hedgehogs as it enables specific ailments to be targeted and treated rather than blindly treating with wormers and antibiotics which may be ineffective. If you do not have access to a microscope, Vale Wildlife Hospital are happy to examine hedgehog faecal samples for you via the postal system. To help towards their costs and to try to cut down on unnecessary sampling, they charge a small fee of £2.50 per sample sent. Please enclose a cheque payable to ‘Vale Wildlife Hospital’ with the sample/s you are sending or you can pay through Paypal, email address (please try to use the option that does not incur any costs to them). Please email them at to let them know that you are sending it.

Instructions from Vale Wildlife Hospital :-

You need to send a fresh, complete sample (as we need to take our slide sample from the outside of the faeces, the part that has been in contact with the bowel wall). It should be put in a small, airtight, non-crushable sample pot, available from your vet. Royal Mail will no longer deliver samples to us that are not packed appropriately. This should then be put in a padded envelope along with your details including your email address. Send this first class to our address (make sure you pay the correct postage as it will be either a ‘large letter’ or a ‘small packet’ – it will not just be an ordinary letter stamp).

If you do have a microscope, the simplest way of checking for eggs, larvae or protozoa in hedgehog faeces is to carry out a simple faecal smear examination.

1. Collect a faecal sample from the hedgehog – make sure it is as fresh as possible, especially if taking the sample from a hedgehog housed in an outside pen as the sample can quickly become contaminated by outside elements.

2. Using a scalpel blade, take a small amount of the sample (about a third of the size of a match head at most) and place it in the centre of a clean microscope slide. Make sure that this is taken from the outer part of the faeces (the part that has been in contact with the bowel wall) and not from inside it.

3. Using a 1ml syringe and needle, put 1 drop of slightly warmed Hartmanns or similar onto the sample on the slide. Hartmanns/saline is used in preference to tap water as it is isotonic and contains a similar concentration of minerals as is found in protozoa. Tap water can therefore damage protozoa and may prevent the detection of them under the microscope.

4. Using the scalpel blade, mix/chop the sample up a bit in the fluid and then place a new cover slip on top of the sample and press down very carefully but very firmly.

5. Your sample is now ready for the microscope.

Place the prepared slide on the microscope and examine using the lowest magnification to begin with (x40 magnification on most scopes).

After the entire sample has been examined, turn the microscope to the next magnification (x100 on most scopes) and repeat the process. This magnification should be adequate to see/detect most types of parasite.

If eggs or larvae are seen the magnification can then be increased if necessary in order to identify the object more accurately (x400). However, we usually only need to use this magnification when identifying protozoa.

Remember that, as eggs etc. are not always shed in every faeces, regular sampling is essential and we recommend carrying out this procedure at least weekly, ideally twice a week.

Photos of parasites and treatment documents, can be found here:-

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Baby Bird Handrearing Formula

So, after many Years of giving out the recipe, via our book and over social media and email, we have decided that we should sell our Baby Bird Handrearing Formula as a ready made mix.

It is sold in 1kg weight bags and contains the following:-

500g Ground up 80% Chicken Cat Biscuits

250g Proprietary Breeding Mash Formula

250g Dried Insects – Ants, Daphnia and Insect Mix

Multivitamins and Probiotics

Because this is a dry mix, it lasts for a long time and you can scoop out just a small amount, mix with water and feed your baby birds

Keep refrigerated between feeds or make up a fresh amount before each feed.

Sterilise all feeding equipment between feeds

See our video below:-


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Trichomoniasis is back!

It’s that time of Year again when wet, mild conditions provide the perfect breeding ground for Trichomoniasis (Canker).

Whilst there are effective ways to treat Trich when birds come in, there’s no really effective way to treat it without catching infected birds, sadly.

Characterised by yellow/white lesions in the mouth and throat of the bird, a thick, mucoid saliva and swellings around the eyes, the organism will grow until eventually the bird cannot feed properly and dies of starvation or predation.  The more advanced the disease is, the more difficult it is to treat.

Other signs of the disease that would be noticeable to members of the public would be birds that have dirty looking beaks with patches of wet feathers around the beak area and swollen eyes.  Any birds that have difficulty swallowing food are fluffed up, lethargic and slow to fly off will also need help. It should be noted that this is a disease of birds only and cannot be passed on to cats, dogs, rabbits or humans.

It is believed that the increase in the spread of this disease in recent years is due partly to a lack of hygiene around bird feeding and watering stations.  A bird with trichmoniasis drinking from a bird bath is likely to pass the disease on to other and so continue the spread of the disease.  Some organisations advise immediately removing feeders and bird baths as soon as an infected bird is noticed, but what happens then? The answer is simple, the affected bird is stressed and hungry adding to his deterioration and he and any other infected birds will all move, as a group, to another garden where there is food, thus infecting that area too.

Disinfectants are all very well BUT the only definitive way to kill trichomonas gallinae is by dessication, ie drying out. Leaving feeders and especially bird baths to dry out after washing them is vital. A recommended drying time is 48 hours or at the very least (when regularly cleaned, ie weekly) 24 hours.

Homeowners can help combat the spread of this disease:-

  • Clean, disinfect and dry out your feeders for 48 hours, then
  • Clean and completely dry out bird tables and bird baths, weekly
  • Completely change drinking water daily, do not just top up
  • Spread feed stations out to reduce crowding
  • Make drainage holes in any exposed tables to prevent moisture build up
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Welcome Rehabbers!

Welcome to our new site!

As rehabbers ourselves, we got fed up with having to go to several different sites to buy all of the equipment needed for caring for our animals, so we decided that as we buy in bulk, why not make items available ourselves?

We’ve tried to keep costs as low as we can as we know how expensive rehabbing is and any profit that is made, goes straight back into our own charity (Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue), or the charities that contribute items and articles.

If there’s anything that you use and think is missing from the store, please let us know and we will do our best to source it.