For over 25 years Hessilhead has cared for Scotland's injured and orphaned wildlife, aiming to rescue, treat, rehabilitate and release birds and animals back to the wild

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28th February 2018

Introducing a very special species, one that has never been admitted to Hessilhead ever before! This gorgeous bird is a long-tailed duck, (Clangula hyemalis), found at a local RSPB reserve, Loch House at Lochwinnoch.

Long-tailed ducks are small sea ducks that breed on the Arctic coasts of North America (Alaska, Canada, Greenland), Europe (Iceland and Norway) and Asia (Russia). They then migrate to further south for winter, including northern parts of the UK. Initially this guy caused slight confusion in the centre, due to the markings of his plumage. We now understand that he is an immature male going through a transitioning phase. As you can see from the photos, immature males lack the long tail that is characteristic of the non-breeding males, and the distinct contrasting black and white feathers of the breeding males.

Sadly, long-tailed ducks are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN red list due to a severe decline detected in the wintering population in the Baltic Sea, going from around 4.2 million individuals in 1992 to 1.5 million individuals in 2009 (Skov et al. 2011). The main threats for this species include wetland habitat degradation, oil pollution and entanglement in fishing nets, the last two causing death in most cases. This guy had cooking oil on his feathers which severely damaged their waterproofing properties.

Luckily, he got to Hessilhead, where we are working hard to getting him waterproof again. Once he is waterproof, he will be released where he was found and hopefully start his journey North.

17th February 2018

It was a great day for a seal release on Thursday, even if it was a bit on the windy side! Miller and Rose, two grey seals, were released side by side down at Portencross.

Miller, the first to brave the waves, was found at Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae. He weighed a total of 40.2kg on release and as you can see was so eager to get into the water.

Rose was found abandoned and injured on the Isle of Man, and was transported to us a few months ago by the dedicated team at @manxspca_dogs.

Since then, she has done brilliantly in our care, and has put on a whopping amount of weight, her final mass being 46.3kg!! We wish them both well on their journey in the great deep blue sea.

February 11th 2018

Time for an update after a couple of weeks with a mix of patients. Good news about the roe deer from Lochwinnoch, found at the roadside a couple of weeks ago. She was released on Friday evening, fully alert and having been eating well.

Other releases of the past week have included a woodcock that was caught by a cat. It had a sore wing, but not broken, and after a few days of digging worms from frozen ground we took the lively bird into our wood. The first flight wasn’t good, and we approached the woodcock, sitting against a tree trunk, thinking we might have to take it back into care. It thought differently. With the usual crash when a woodcock takes off, it flew high, over the tops of mature spruce trees, heading back towards Kilbirnie. We released a buzzard last week, and a bunch of recovered feral pigeons. It was good to see a song thrush fly off strongly.

The mix of new patients includes a new otter cub from Arran. The cub spent an afternoon calling for Mum, and local people kept watch from a distance. When the cub was still on the beach at 9pm, squeezed between boulders, the concerned people called us for advice, and we thought it best to take the cub into care. He came to Hessilhead next morning, still calling for mum. He has settled down now, is eating trout, though I do have to start him off at each feed time. Once Norman is eating confidently, he will be introduced to our other cub, Otzi. They have already been chatting to each other in the hospital.

We have two more buzzards in care. One had the tip of its beak broken; the other has an old fracture in the wing, but this has healed quite well, so we are hopeful that the bird will fly. A barn olw was brought to us yesterday. He is very subdued, but no fractures. he is taking small bits of meat.

Yesterday we had a call reporting an albino addrer. This would have been a real rarity, but on collection we found a pale coloured corn snake. It was lucky to have survived such low temperatures. A kittiwake was a surprise casualty today. it is a youngster, underweight, now on fluid therapy and heat.

During this snowy weather the last patient we expected was another hedgehog. It is underweight, was dehydrated, but ate a good supper last night. I am sure it is happy to be in the warm hospital.

Good news that we have another seal up to weight for release, and others eating well. We still have a couple of stragglers though. If only they would discover how easy it is to pick up their own food!

We are looking forward to more releases this week, with swans ready to go and a pink footed goose.

January 27th 2018

Meet Minty the juvenile pigeon.

Minty on arrival

Minty was found by Queen Street station in Glasgow, and picked up by Jan – a member of the SSPCA. At Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue, it is fairly common to get pigeons that have either fallen in tar, big vats of cooking oil or that have been stuck in ‘vandal paint’. Vandal paint is something used by pest control in most cities to combat the high number of pigeons that take to breeding and landing in ‘inappropriate places’. All the above have big negative impacts on feather condition. Oil breaks down the waterproofing properties of feathers, the stickiness makes the feather webbing glue together, all of which can be hard to wash off – and will impact flying. Minty was slightly different. Imagine a big tub of glacier mints melted together to form a big, clear, minty smelling glue-like substance. Which covered, his entire body including all his flight feathers.

Drying Minty

We first tried gently drying the glacier mint glue-like substance, to see if we could dry it up and then pick it off. No luck.

Next step we washed him with warm water and fairy liquid which is known to be the best at breaking down oil molecules in seabirds which have been affected by oil spills. No luck. We then resorted to using coop’s own hand wash – third time lucky!!!!! The mint like substance is slowly being removed from his feathers using the hand wash, and with regular preening by Minty himself hopefully it will all be gone very soon. We all enjoy coming into work and seeing Minty’s feathers fluffed up now, a great improvement from when he first got admitted to the centre.

Washing Minty














Fluffy Minty




January 23rd 2018

Snow always lingers a long time at Hessilhead, but the drive is almost clear now, though big patches remain in the fields and enclosures. On Sunday we rescued a roe deer that was lying at the roadside near Lochwinnoch in a blizzard. She must have been hit by a car and is badly concussed. Very little progress yet.

The clearer weather yesterday allowed us to release two foxes, and two buzzards were moved out of the hospital.

More patients coming in now as the weather improves. Two young pigeons, not yet fledged, are snuggled together in a brooder, and an otter cub found today near Stewarton has already been eating sprats.

16th January 2018

Two interesting things happened at the weekend. The first was getting a call from a farmer, about a fox that was living in the poly tunnel where he will lamb his sheep, and where two micro pigs were living. The farmer had shut the fox in the pig ark, and asked if we would collect her. Off we went to meet a lovely farming couple, who were most concerned that nothing nasty should happen to this fox. We could see where she had been entering and exiting the tunnel recently, and remarkably she hadn’t touched the various free range poultry. It was a bit tricky getting the fox from the ark, with a no longer micro pig slumbering in the hay beside the entrance. We got her safely boxed, agreed that it wasn’t a good place for her to be living and promised to relocate her. She is a confident fox, probably used to being fed by people living in the houses not too far from the farm. Apparently someone had called the farmer that morning, saying he heard they had a problem fox, and that he would deal with it. ‘No way’ said the farmer, Hessilhead are on the way.

The second incident occurred on Sunday afternoon. I took a call from Maybole Police Office, which at first didn’t seem unusual, as the police often call us asking for help with a wildlife casualty. I thought it a bit strange when they asked if I was Mrs Christie, and then asked if I’d like to explain what I was doing in Minishant the previous evening. I could see where this was going! The previous evening Andy and I had met a couple from Stranraer, who had found an injured badger on the road. They very kindly offered to bring the casualty more than half way to Hessilhead. So on Saturday evening we were seen transferring a badger, in a dog cage, from one car to another. Someone must have thought that suspicious, and reported it to the police. When the police were given a description of Andy and I they recognized us, but quite rightly called to check it out. Good news that the public are aware of badger baiting and the threat to badgers. Sadly the badger was badly injured, had a broken back and was PTS.

10th January 2018

You may remember that last Friday we had an influx of patients. Today we released the sparrowhawk that came from Millport. We took her back to Cumbrae, released her just behind the town, and she flew into a tree as if returning to her favourite perch.

The otter that came from Rothesay has made remarkable progress too. She remained unconscious till Saturday evening, then when I opened her cage to give her more fluids, she ran off!. On Sunday she ate 3 herring, and has eaten smaller amounts each day since. She moves well, rolls on her blankets to dry herself after playing in her water bowl, but still sleeps a lot and we can still take hold of her. I expect that one day soon that will change, and we look forward to taking her back to Rothesay.

The buzzard that came on teh same day is eating well and gaining weight, but sadly the kestrel was too weak to survive.

Minty the pigeon that was covered in sticky mint scented goo is looking much better after several washes. The smell has almost gone, but there is some contamination. Hand wash is removing the goo without causing any damage to the skin.


6th January 2018

Of course we have been working all over the holidays, but we’ve been lucky as there weren’t too many new patients coming into care each day. Till yesterday, and it was back to normal. A couple of feral pigeons were delivered in the morning, then a kestrel was brought in by one of our couriers from East Kilbride. The bird had flown into an office building, and was very weak and underweight. We collected an adult otter from the ferry at Wemyss bay. She was found late the night before, in Rothesay, and was taken in by the local vet. We assumed she had been hit by a car. When we collected her she was unconscious, and more than 24 hours later she is still deeply unconscious, but takes rehydration fluid from a syringe, and occasionally moved around the cage. Fingers crossed. A buzzard was delivered later , and Minty the pigeon. If you imagine melting a packet of Fox’s Glacier Mints, and then pouring the goo over a pigeon, you’ll get an idea of Minty’s predicament. We have no idea where he got covered in this sticky minty cordial, but we are having trouble removing it from his feathers. 

Today was a release day. A buzzard was taken away to be released near Muirkirk. It came to us on Christmas Day, wet and very cold, having been found on the radiator grill of a car when it parked in the town. The driver had no idea where he collected his passenger! We just hope it was released close enough to home to find its way back easily. At lunchtime 3 seals were loaded into the van. It a beautiful day at Portencross, perfect for a release. Hartley, Arnold and Bute all seemed perfectly at home in the sea, and soon swam out of the harbour.

January 3rd 2018

New Year, new promise. This year we are going to try really hard and keep the diary going, no matter how many casualties come our way. Last year we floundered when the new of new patients escalated in summer, and we had some staff changes too. Now everything is running smoothly again with a new team wildlife rehabilitators, all determined to provide a first class service for injured and orphaned wildlife.

It is a real treat for us when a casualty that we have nursed back to health decides to make its home close to the centre. Recently we released a rather special heron. It is much paler coloured than the usual grey herons, so is easily recognized. We were thrilled to see it on the swan hospital roof a few days after release, eating scraps of fish left by the seals. At other times it perches on aviary roofs, watching the seals in a nearby pool.

4th April 2017

Since writing the last diary entry, a week ago, fox cubs have been flooding in. The oldest cub is Arnold, who came with a head injury, and is recovering well. There is Emma, a two week old cib found alone, but left out for 4 hours in the hope that Mum would appear. Newton was trapped between a fence and a garage, and when he was found he was cold, wet, muddy and very hungry. He is doing well now.P1120539 - Copy

The youngest cub was the last to arrive. She was found in a garden, and may have come from under decking, but didn’t retrieve her in the hour she was left poutsdie. At only a couple of days old, she couldn’t be left outsside any longer. Despite her small size she is a good feeder and very active.P1120525 - Copy

If you would like to contribute to the cost of rearing fox cubs text WILD24 followed by the amount you would like to donate, and send to 70070

Three baby rabbits have been a handful of trouble. They were chinky kits, dug up accidentally by a JCB. there were also hysterical whenever anyone tried to handle them. So feeding times were a trial. The first problem was catching a rabbit as the three of them did walls of death around the cage. The next challenge was not to instinctively drop the youngster when it let out an ear piercing scream. It was possible to get a teat into the mouth when the rabbit screamed, and over a few days they learnt to suck the teat. The rabbits are now eating dandelion leaves, so just one bottle feed a day. Hopefully they will soon be eating rabbit mix too.

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There are plenty of young collared doves in care too, the smallest one just a few days old. It is relief that quite a few hedgehogs have gone to new homes recently. If anyone has a suitable garden for hedgehogs and would like to help us return some to the wild, please get in touch