I’ve just returned from handling all the sandpipers, something we do fortnightly to assess their physical condition and general well-being. The good news – we were happy with today’s health check.
Nigel, Rebecca, Michelle – our resident vet – and I rounded up the birds using a soft sided corral and handled them one-by-one. We always aim to record as much information as we can about the birds when in the hand while being as quick and smooth as possible so that we don’t cause them any unnecessary stress.
One of the important things we record is the birds’ mass. To weigh a bird we carefully slide it inside a plastic tube, until its head pokes out one end while its tail feathers are still visible at the other. Once the bird is securely inside, we place it on a small electronic balance. As you can imagine, it would be very difficult to accurately weigh the sandpipers without using this method as they very rarely keep still when they’re not resting or sleeping!
We were pleased to see that all the birds had masses between 30g and 40g and none had lost weight since the last catch. Interestingly, over the last few weeks we’ve noticed that the mass of the birds fluctuates without any change in overall condition. We think this may be related to the bird’s stage of moult.
We also take down a body condition “score” for each bird. To do this Michelle feels around the breast bone of the bird, assesses how much muscle and body fat it has and gives it a score from 0-5, where 0 is very thin, 5 is very fat. Ideally we’re looking for scores around 3. It‘s important that only Michelle completes this task each time so that the results of each health check are comparable. All their body condition scores were within the normal range.
We also take a close look at each bird’s foot condition. Maintaining good foot condition among captive birds is a notoriously difficult task and therefore something we closely monitor. Often the birds’ feet need treatment. Nothing drastic, just a warm foot bath and a few blobs of antiseptic cream here and there on the callouses which form as a result of walking on hard substrates. We score each of the bird’s feet so we can track any change over time. We are trying the birds with a new substrate of river sand and heating the main pond in their enclosure. We hope to steadily see an improvement in the condition of their feet.
Occasionally we also clip the birds’ toe nails if they are particularly long or growing irregularly, as they do not seem to wear down as well as they would do naturally in the wild. We also make sure their plumage is in good condition – shiny and glossy – a tell-tale sign that a bird is in good health. If they are slightly soiled we can encourage the birds to bathe by releasing them into the pond when we are finished recording all of our information.
In summary we have some very happy and healthy sandpipers… and carers!