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Chicken – from rescue to release

Bijgewerkt op: 19 dec. 2019

After getting in touch with David Jones – a Turaco Specialist from the UK – I was asked to write a story about Chicken for the International Turaco Society…and this is that story.

International Turaco Society Magazine Summer 2019 no 51

It is 2019 and although I have rehabilitated a variety of species this year I was able to learn all about raising a Schalow’s Turaco chick. The Turaco chick arrived in the morning of the 20th of February 2019. It was 7:50 AM and we were in the middle of filming a series, the entire film crew was super excited to hear about a young bird coming in. The gentlemen who brought the bird to the centre reported that his cat caught the little friend as a ‘present’ for him. He didn’t know where the bird came from and wanted to make sure the bird didn’t sustain any injuries so he wisely decided to bring the bird to us for care.

The chick was clearly stressed when I had him on my lap. He was breathing heavily and his mouth was wide open looking around. The physical exam showed nothing and we tried to do everything as quick and gently as possible. When cats have had birds in their mouth you can never be sure everything is alright. We decided to provide full medical support, those cat puncture wounds are very difficult to see with the naked eye. Pain relief, fluids, vitamins, calcium, antibiotics and a calm, warm and quiet place for an hour before we would start to feed the bird for the first time was our first step.

A first feed

Day 1 - Feeding becomes messy

The first feeding turned into a mess. The slurry I made was obviously not appreciated by him. He kept asking for food and shook his head whenever he received some. His basket which he was placed in temporarily, turned quickly in one big disaster. On top of that he kept walking around in the basket in the slurry and soon he was covered in food. This one is going to be interesting!

A second feed

A Turaco in his blanket after intake
Chicken resting in his blanket

The second feed wasn’t much better and we had to force-feed him to make sure he would get enough food for the day. Luckily he took this very well and later on he settled well in his new enclosure for the night. He snuggled up in his blanket that was placed as a little nest. When I left him for the night I had my fingers crossed: young birds, the amount of stress he received, when you do this kind of work you need to be prepared for the worst.

Did he make it?

The following day early in the morning I could hear him squeeking once I entered the building, a rush of excitement went through me when I heard him: he is still with us! Clearly he was bright enough and I couldn’t resist thinking that his vocalizations are super cute. We tried a different approach where we offered different sizes of fruit pieces thanks to the input from David Jones. After sending the weight, 120 grams and a picture David advised me that this Turaco wasn’t super young anymore, so no need for the slurry! The bird actually looked a bit like a small black chicken to most of us and everyone who saw him adored him from the beginning with his little noises. And there it was, the first name that popped up….. Our Turaco chick received the name Chicken!

Working with a new species

When you are working with a new species even with all the experience you have got from other species it is fascinating to see how the animal responds, how it behaves, develops, grows and learns over time. The small pieces of banana worked. Slightly clumsy as young birds or actually any young animal can do. Chicken would open his beak half, squeak loudly, get super excited, pick at nothing relevant and finally when he would bump into the plastic tweezers he would eventually get a small part of the banana. Internally conflicted with what just happened and a normal dose of stress raging through his body I could see him slowly understanding the trick. We took breaks during feeding to make sure he did not lose too much focus and to ease his transition from; being a wild bird, being fed by his parents, to being caged and being offered strange food on a strange thing by a strange big moving creature.


With a hands-off policy at the Wildlife Centre raising species that you are less familiar with can be tricky. Understanding how a species develops and knowing what to do requires observations and often also human interaction to a certain extent. Over the years husbandry protocols are polished in a way that involves minimum human interaction and minimalizes focus on humans while still making sure animal welfare standards are to the highest levels as possible. This provides them with an advanced opportunity to survive in the wild once released. However when an animal needs a human-surrogate mother or social interaction, for example when a baby monkey is still very young or due to an animal being extremely humanized we do provide this. Individual animal welfare always comes first. Still over time you can wean social animals off human contact especially if you provide them with companions of their own kind. Of course this doesn’t work effectively with every social species, it is also dependant on the animals themselves and some species have a tendency to stay humanized to a large extent. However de-humanizing work very well with young primates. Hand-rearing young birds it a completely different cup of tea as all people who have worked with birds understands.

Doing the best you can

Withno Turaco surrogates around, his carers were his new family. In general we try to keep different carers for animals to a minimum to reduce stress and to prevent excessive taming. Chicken was therefore taken care of by 2 assistants and myself during his stay. Although we tried hard to prevent him from getting to ‘friendly’ with us he actually, within a couple of days, started to understand the routine and cooperated fully with us. From 120 grams he started to gain relatively steadily in weight every day. Within 2 weeks he gained 30 grams and was happily eating from the tweezers and when he was not too stubborn by himself from his plate.

Growing and growing

Chicken started to change slowly in colour, which was a delight to see. Initially he was kept in a safe environment in our clinic where we were able to monitor him closely to see if he would develop any health problems. Soon he started to explore the clinic and used our heads to jump on during feeding time which indicated it was time for him to move to a bigger exciting enclosure with different vegetation. Chicken loved his new outdoor place and every time when one of us would come to provide food or clean his enclosure he would squeak excitingly and he would look at you waiting until you would step in. He would fly on your head or shoulder, pick at your fingers, try to get tangled in your hair, nibble your ears or he would find anything that was of any interest to him on your body. We changed his enclosure regularly and he received different vegetation a couple of times a week to keep him entertained. For safety purposes Chicken was brought back to the clinic every evening before dark and back to his outside enclosure in the morning. Every day he would hop onto our fingers, we placed him in his basket, walked to his enclosure and he would hop into his cage without any problems. What an intelligent beautiful animal!

Chicken in his outside enclosure

Chicken would jump on top of us once he was taken out of his cage
Chicken being curious

Chickens return

Young Schalow's Turaco during rehabilitation
Chicken in his release enclosure

Chicken stayed at the Centre till April 2019, it was time for him to move so he would get more exposed to a natural habitat. Since he was found in Lilongwe and since he inevitable was quite used to people I was prepared for a longer soft-release situation. Perhaps he would never ‘detach’ completely from people. Luckily one of the trustee members volunteered to take Chicken into her big garden. Chicken was kept in an aviary in the garden and received a visitor of his own kind not long after he moved to his new house! All of us were amazed to hear this information and they seemed to be very interested in each other. After a while it was decided to let Chicken out of his aviary and to give him the opportunity to figure things out by himself. Unfortunately it was difficult to get more footage but Chicken was seen multiple times in the garden with his new friend and by himself! Chicken was back in the wild again and that is what we only ever wanted for him.

Thank you David Jones (Chairman) for all the help and advice you gave me for raising Chicken. Also many thanks to both David and Louise Peat (Committee Member) for publishing this story in this amazing magazine!

#turaco #animalrehabilitation #birds #rescue #release

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