The term rehabilitation is often heard but less often understood. Rehabilitating any wild creature does not simply mean “letting it go”, but rather is a methodical way of checking that the patient stands the best possible chance of re integrating with the wild population, and has a high potential for survival.
Although swans when re released are not the kind of birds that will rush off into the undergrowth, or fly away into the distance never to be seen again, there is of course no excuse for “trial and error” methods to be employed when liberating patients.
A sound knowledge of “normal” swan behaviour and abilities is an essential requirement of any person who is responsible for pronouncing a bird fit for release. The swan must demonstrate that it is able to feed, swim, walk, and preen normally. It must interact with other swans in an appropriate way for its age and sexual status, the bird should be fully flighted (unless in moult) and should be maintaining a body weight corresponding to is size etc.
A fit bird should be fully waterproof and if recovering from a non-waterproof condition, must have demonstrated the ability to keep itself waterproofed whilst kept in an outdoor enclosure for a minimum of one week. Small areas of neck plumage absent are ok i.e. postoperative sites. However, any substantial feather loss in this area will mean retaining the bird until re grown.
The “bonding” of family groups grows stronger and stronger in the first few months of a cygnet’s life; and the time differential between taking a cygnet into care and returning it to its family can vary enormously. However as a guide; any cygnet away from the family group for more than five days, will have to be reared in captivity and undergo protracted rehabilitation.
Try not to keep a cygnet on its own, if needs be pass the bird onto a unit that has others of the same age (approx) they thrive best in groups as nature designed.
When an adult swan is judged fit for release, it should ideally be returned to the water from which it originated; unless of course it would be dangerous to do so. If this is not possible, place the bird in the nearest non breeding flock situation to its own water, make certain that it has settled in before leaving and arrange for someone to “keep an eye out” for several days to ensure the swan has adjusted well, If the swan leaves the flock its original home water should be checked out, in case the bird has returned there to face the danger that you had previously identified.
Releases should be arranged for early morning, which gives the bird most of the daylight hours available to re settle. Postpone releases if there are severe weather conditions or other temporary local factors: ie an angling match is taking place.
NEVER release young birds in isolation.
NEVER release a disabled bird; if non flyer, partially sighted, or amputee
NEVER release birds on new swan free waters without full investigation and consultation.
NEVER release birds on private waters without permission.
NEVER release birds onto a site where take off and/or landing is difficult or impossible.
NEVER release birds on waters with flight paths in or out adjacent to power lines (pylons) and/or motorways.
NEVER release where there is insufficient natural food supply.