When MOLLY BURKETT, owner of the Animal Rehabilitation Centre, lost one of her oldest buzzards, it reminded her of how came to rescue it. Here she recollects the terrible state she found the bird in and how she nursed it back to health
THE old buzzard died the first cold night we had before Christmas last year. But we hadn’t realised quite how old she was – not until we looked up our records and then the day I picked her up came back to me so vividly.
The call had come late in the evening. My husband John travelled a lot in his job and was away from home, and the children were fast asleep in bed – so there was only one thing to do. I wrapped them up in sleeping bags, put them on the back seat and set off down the valley.
I could hear the celebrations going on in the pub as I parked the car and did stop to wonder if this was going to be another wild goose chase.
The group had just completed a course of canoeing and camping. They had obviously had a good time and still were having one, but the leader did have time to take me to one side and explain how they had seen the bird on the bank on the way up river and as it was still there when they came back three days later, they picked it up and phoned us up when they reached base.
I looked in the box and l didn’t know what the bird was. At first glance I thought it was a buzzard except that it had a jet-black head. It wasn’t only black, it was shiny black and it was like a helmet such as knights wore in the old days. It wasn’t until I got it home, that I realised it was indeed a buzzard and the black colouring was ticks, hundreds and hundreds of them, so there was no sleep that night.
I spread newspaper over the floor, put the bird on that and started easing the ticks’ hold. Wiping over the feathers with paraffin eased a lot off and others that were sated with blood from the pathetic bird fell on to the paper, but most of the others had to be dealt with individually. A lighted cigarette was a good weapon, but it was important to make sure that the insect fell on to the paper because if it caught elsewhere on the bird, it was likely to reattach itself.
From then on it was bundling up the paper on which the ticks had landed and burning them. The bird was recognisable as a bird by the morning, but I still had a lot more ticks to remove when I got home from work the next day.
Then it was trying to get some weight back on the bird because those ticks had sapped all the strength from it. I would like to say that we got it fit enough to take it back to the New Forest and release it there but the buzzard proved to be one of the laziest birds we have ever had. It made no effort whatsoever to fly again let alone hunt for food. It preferred the easy life. All the same, we were surprised to discover that we had had it for well over 40 years, but then birds don’t generally die from old age.
There’s generally another cause, often when they have lost feather condition but I think this must be the exception to the rule because we cannot find anything wrong with it at all. It probably didn’t like the cold weather.
Molly Burkett and her husband John run the Animal Rehabilitation Centre from their home in Grantham, Nottinghamshire.