Carried in trunks. How people rescue birds injured during the war

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Blind, shell-shocked, with broken wings, tails, amputated limbs... They got hit by cars, suffered domestic injuries, severe shrapnel wounds from explosives and shells in the war zone, or people brought them to save them from shelling.

For almost 20 years, the Free Wings rehabilitation center for birds has been operating in the village of Kozhychi, near Lviv, where injured birds are treated and cared for. Viktor Shelvinsky, ornithologist and founder of the center, told Lviv Now which birds most often are brought to them for treatment, how they care for war-wounded birds, and whether they manage to return them home or release them.

«Free Wings» Rehabilitation Center for Birds

The rehabilitation center takes care of more than 300 birds, including 54 the Red Data Book species. Some of them are birds from the wild. Others are domesticated. 

Phaps pigeons

Owls, parrots, ducks, peacocks, marsh harriers, merlins, falcons, crows, finches, chaffinches, bullfinches, pigeons, parakeets, goldfinches, siskins, field sparrows, buntings, golden, diamond, and silver pheasants – all of them live freely in an area with numerous aviaries, small ponds, and green areas.

Eagle owls

Viktor Shelvinsky, the founder of the rehabilitation center, does not remember the exact number of feathered creatures that have been rescued over the years of the center’s existence. He says it’s in the thousands. As the founder of the center, who lives and works there, he explains that they have had to care for and provide assistance to birds of various age groups from different parts of our country.

Viktor Shelvinsky

The beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion has been one of the most challenging periods. From the first days of the war, people started bringing in injured and traumatized domestic birds. They also received birds from zoos after they came under bombardment. Now, the center is home to owls and copper-winged pigeons from the Kharkiv and Mykolaiv zoos, among others.

The raven is eating from the hands

«Every bird that comes here has its own story. Often we receive birds picked up on the road – that is, accidentally hit by cars. Birds are also injured when they get hit by electric wires or poles, lightning strikes, or after being attacked by cats or hawks. Over the past year, we have received many birds from the east, center, or south of Ukraine. They have concussions from explosions, wounds from shrapnel, or amputations from exploded shells,» says Viktor Shelvinsky.

The founder of the rehabilitation center says that people from Kyiv, Irpin, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv rescued the birds from the war in different ways. Some carried them in the trunk of their cars, some in a small bus among their belongings, and some in train cars: on shelves or holding them in their arms the whole way.

«I often received phone calls and videos so I could assess the situation. Sometimes people first took the birds to the vet and then to us. If the injury was simple, we could help the bird here at the rehabilitation center,» Shelvinsky, who has a veterinary degree, continues the conversation.

Some people from the east and south left their pets with us for a while until they found a place to live and then took them away. For example, someone returned from Germany to collect one parrot, and now the bird lives with its owners again.

The rosella parrot

There are quite a few injured owls and crows here. One of them is missing both legs, but she still manages to feed a baby bird with a damaged leg. The veterinarians have placed a splint to help it heal and grow back together.

Mykolaiv Zoo also sent their parrots to the rehabilitation center near Lviv. Among them, there are the eastern rosella and the crimson rosella. There is great hope that they will return to their homes. Marko, a 20-year-old parrot with yellow and blue plumage, has been living here for six months. The owners, fleeing the war, had to leave him behind because the parrot would hardly survive the journey abroad.

Two handsome peacocks were brought by train from Mykolaiv when it was noisy and disturbing there because of the war. One of them had several broken fingers.

The white peacock

Soldiers who returned home for rotation brought two marsh harriers. One of them had a fracture of the ulna and radius bones, but he has a good chance of recovering and being able to fly again. The other had fractures in both legs, so the chances of full recovery are minimal due to improper fusion of the bone in one leg.

But almost everyone here is shouted down by jays, which, if you listen closely, seem to say two names – Natalia and Vanya. As the rehabilitation center, director explains: instead of singing their songs, these birds make atypical sounds to surprise their mates.

«One of the most capable birds always starts to «talk,» and the rest repeats after it or mimics other voices,» explains Viktor Shelvinsky.

In the small ponds, of which there are several here, there are fish swimming, such as carp and red-finned fish, as well as the Mandarin duck, considered to be the most beautiful duck in the world. A few days ago, she hatched ducklings – yellowish ones with brown spots.

The ornithologist goes to feed almost every bird himself. Today, their diet includes chicken hearts. The founder of the rehabilitation center uses long tweezers to pick up food from a plastic bucket and feeds it into each bird’s mouth. It is not their favorite treat, as the birds prefer insects and larvae. However, the price of such food is much higher – up to 500 hryvnias per kilogram.

Food for temporary residents of the rehabilitation center

Viktor Shelvinsky says they have to feed birds several times a day, spending almost 700 grams of food per bird, because the more often staff feed them, the faster they will grow and recover.

The rehabilitation center needs from 10000 to 15000 hryvnias per month to feed the birds alone. At the beginning of the full-scale war, the Poles and Germans helped a lot, but now the help is not as intense as before. Nowadays, most caring people help by making donations or simply bringing food. There is always need for meat, chicken hearts, grain feed, eggs, fish, and worms.

Red Data Book birds that have been cured and can fly are fitted with GPS trackers and released into the wild for further monitoring. Less valuable species are banded, which helps ornithologists, biologists, and veterinarians to obtain valuable information.

The raven

Those birds that are unable to return to the wild (wingless, with broken legs) but have preserved reproductive function areare transferred to the Halych National Park in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. In that local center for the rehabilitation of wildlife, they can not only continue to live but also form pairs and have offspring.

The «Free Wings» rehabilitation center does not receive any assistance from the government. It is entirely sustained through the sheer enthusiasm of its owner and the help of organizations like UAnimals, the Western Ukrainian Ornithological Society, volunteers, and compassionate individuals who provide support and assistance.

Regular excursions are organized for children at the center. The entrance fee, which can be any amount, is considered a donation and a voluntary contribution towards the birds’ food. Additionally, Viktor Shelvinsky conducts scientific and educational ecological excursions, as well as lectures for ornithology students, veterinarians, and biologists.

Wounded swift

Those who are willing to bring food, provide financial assistance, or book an excursion are requested to call the phone number 067 948 4551 or send a message to the Facebook page of the «Free Wings» rehabilitation center.

Translated by Yulian Lahun

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media hub, which hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.


TAGS: Lviv, Nature, animals

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