Warrington-based charity, Wild Wings Birds of Prey

PUBLISHED: 08:15 10 November 2020

Muffin and Biscuit, two of the rescued barn owlets. Photo: Wild Wings

Muffin and Biscuit, two of the rescued barn owlets. Photo: Wild Wings

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Rescuing injured or abandoned wildlife isn’t as easy as it looks...

Sonic is all cosy after his first bath. Photo: James BalmeSonic is all cosy after his first bath. Photo: James Balme

Rescuing small creatures hasn’t always been a way of life for Cheshire Life’s history man James Balme - that is, until a chance introduction to Wild Wings Birds of Prey.

James started out simply as a helping hand to local animal rescue charities through his love for short film production, and it was his friend, Paul Clark, who fuelled the fire, encouraging the production of a feature documentary for a charity he was fundraising for.

“After bouncing a few ideas around, I decided to offer my film-making services for free to any animal rescue charities that Paul was raising money for at the time,” James says.

“The first film I made was about the hard work and dedication of a local hedgehog rescue centre, and it was only a couple of years later that Paul contacted me regarding a charity called Wild Wings Birds of Prey, in Cheshire.”

A duckling aged six weeks old. Photo: James BalmeA duckling aged six weeks old. Photo: James Balme

James wrote and produced a fundraising documentary about the work of the charity; offering rescue and rehabilitation to injured wild birds of prey as well as abandoned, or lost, younger birds.

“Before I knew it, I had built my own 18-foot rescue aviary at home,” James laughs. “I became good friends with Carole and Ian, the owners of Wild Wings, and it wasn’t long before I was offering a forever home to birds that could never make it back into the wild because of their injuries.

“I was hooked from that very moment.”

Wild Wings Birds of Prey is a specialist rescue centre – and by rescue, they mean actively going out and rescuing birds, rehabilitating them and getting them back into the wild.

BBC Breakfast earlier this year when I was asked to talk about Tawny Owls along with a member of the British Trust for Ornithology. Photo: Wild WingsBBC Breakfast earlier this year when I was asked to talk about Tawny Owls along with a member of the British Trust for Ornithology. Photo: Wild Wings

Carole-Ann Rose has been a volunteer there for about 12 years, and says the charity offers a 24/7, 365 day-a-year rescue – meaning she hasn’t had a day off or family holiday in 10 years.

“Such is the commitment,” she says. “The birds have to be worked with every single day, and we just never know what the next phone call is going to be for a rescue.”

The charity, located at Taylor Business Park in Croft, Warrington, is currently home to about 180 rescue birds.

Carole-Ann and her daughter, Vicky Barton, have avian first aid training and are able to perform triage on wild birds of prey, but for those birds who need more, the team’s avian vet is on hand.

Sonic the hedgehog, chilling. Photo: James BalmeSonic the hedgehog, chilling. Photo: James Balme

“We also get a lot of captive-bred rescues,” Carole-Ann says. “One example is where we had a buzzard that we found hanging in a tree by its equipment and it took us five hours to rescue her.

“When we finally got her down, in struggling to free herself she had unfortunately damaged her eye so is now partially sighted.

“Nobody ever came forward to claim her. And this is a lot of what we find with the captive-bred birds – if we can trace an owner, about 70 per cent of the time they either don’t want them back or they’ve not registered the bird.

“So they end up staying with us here at the centre.”

The ducklings after they were rescued, aged just one week old. Photo: James BalmeThe ducklings after they were rescued, aged just one week old. Photo: James Balme

The centre is very lucky, though, in that is has a big open area. Captive-bred birds are on display to the public as a way of bringing in funds and donations – there’s owls, hawks, falcons and eagles (all of which are rescues), plus an education room and flying meadow, where the birds are exercised, trained and used for flying displays and experiences.

The wild rescues are all kept in a separate area, away from the public. “We’ve got 28 young tawny owls waiting for release because, with Covid, so many more people have been out walking and have come across baby tawnies,” Carole-Ann says.

“Some of them haven’t needed to be rescued; if you can move away slightly and observe for about half an hour, a parent is possibly very close and will be watching them because they are just learning to fledge.

“If there’s no sign of a parent within that time – or it’s obvious that the bird is in distress of injured – they shouldn’t be picked up unless we say so, so it’s always best to ring us.

Sonic aged one month old. Photo: James BalmeSonic aged one month old. Photo: James Balme

“Release day is amazing, but you’re like a worried parent. But we video all of our releases as people like to know what’s happened to a bird, especially if they’ve been involved in rescuing it.”

James has been friends with Carole-Ann – and Wild Wings founder Ian Middleton – now for years, and little did he know that his desire and determination to help the charity would lead him to other acts of kindness in the form of animal rescue; most recently with a baby hedgehog.

“I remember the exact day – it was June 30th, during the heatwave of 2018,” James says. “I took my dogs for a very short walk and as I got home, I noticed a tiny little curled-up ball of spikes on hot tarmac.

“I scooped in into my hands; it was lifeless, so I assumed it had died of dehydration in the heat. But as I looked more closely, I saw a flicker of life.”

It only took a drink of water from a syringe before the baby hedgehog picked up, and within the next few weeks he gained his appetite, and his strength, back.

“By the end of August, he was ready to go back into the wild,” James says. “He still visits my garden every evening to help himself to any offerings I put out for him.”

It was a similar story for a clutch of one-day old Mallard ducklings, who had lost their mother. James mothered the seven ducklings – which he nicknamed ‘the magnificent seven’ – for eight weeks.

He says: “Raising ducklings is no easy task, and they have plenty of requirements, both dietary and exercise-wise, not to mention swimming lessons as part of the care package.

“As the weeks passed, the ducklings grew into something that actually resembled ducks. Release day arrived and I took them to a quiet lake near my home: they flew straight out of the cage and into formation high above the lake, before all landing together on the water.

“It’s hard to explain the emotion: you really do form a bond when bringing up creatures, from small helpless babies all the way through to adulthood.

“But you bet I’d do it all over again.”

ADVICE FROM WILD WINGS

We’d always say, if at all possible, take a picture.

Ring us and send us the picture so that we can ID it – a lot of the time, people think the bird is something other than what it actually is.

People often mis-identify so it’s always better if they can get a picture and give us a ring, and then we’ll advise on the information they give us as to what the next step would be.

wildwingsbirdsofprey.co.uk

07957 416 883

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