• Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

North East Connected

Hopping Across The North East From Hub To Hub

Quick-thinking students save lives of chiffchaff chicks

Three caring students have rescued three young dying chiffchaffs and nursed them back to life after finding them as tiny bundles of half-starved fluff. Emma and Bethany Farrow, in Years 7 and 8 and their friend Imogen Laws, in Year 8, students at Richmond School and Sixth Form College, nurtured the tiny chicks, spending painstaking hours feeding them every half hour to keep them alive with food taken from a small paintbrush and using a pipette to place tiny droplets of water onto the tip of their beaks.  The girls also taught them how to perch, creating a training area with branches in the bath tub to learn this skill!

The girls came across the birds while out on a social-distancing wall walk when their dogs led them to a pile of feathers and sticks in a nest where there appeared to be some dead birds. Among them, three were huddled together and moving so they carefully picked them up and lightly blew on them to see if they were both alive. After ringing the RSPB and waiting to see if the chicks’ parents returned, they wrapped them in a coat and took them home where they put them in a box with a towel for warmth.

The girls spent nine days hand-rearing the birds, initially with mushed-up dog biscuits and hard-boiled egg for protein, feeding them off the end of a paintbrush and water from a pipette. They were all surprised they lasted the night. They called them Pumpkin, who was the chunky one, Rio – he was the slimmer one and Smudge – the smallest one.

The birds had to be fed every half an hour. Sharing the feeding duties, sisters Bethany and Emma got up at 6am to do this every day and until 10:30 at night. Imogen came when she could to help feed them too, but as they had to keep social distancing she couldn’t come as much as she wanted.

The chicks eventually started recognising where the food came from and happily tweeted when the girls came to get them from the airing cupboard where they were staying to keep warm.  They fed them egg biscuit feed, mealworms and waxworms with tweezers.  They put them in a different place to teach them how to perch, and put in large branches with leaves in the bath. Soon they could hop onto the top branch and would sit huddled together for hours. Not long after this, they began to fly between the branches and eventually they started flying onto us as the girls went in to feed them.

Bethany said: “It was a worrying but joyful moment when, after nine days, the chicks were strong enough to be released into the wild. We carefully put them in a small box and took them outside. After just a minute they had all hopped out and one of them was already up the top of a massive tree. All day, we kept a look out for them expecting them to come back; they came back every now and then and we were able to feed them a little bit.

“A week has now gone by since their release and all three chiffchaffs have been seen occasionally coming back to the garden to feed. They are fully independent now and doing nicely! We miss them but hope they will be happy and safe.

Jenna Potter, Headteacher, said: “I am overwhelmed with this wonderful news about Bethany, Emma and Imogen. Their special and caring act of kindness to save these beautiful birds and devote so many hours of time to hand rear them is tremendous, without which they almost certainly would have perished.”