by Paul Cormacain
THE good news is Aidan went to the Belfast Waterworks early in the morning and was well prepared for his good deed for the day/week/month.
He had to go partly into the water, then catch his swan. Very quickly he rendered the bill harmless, by holding the bill. He also rendered the wings harmless, by holding them. A mute swan is a very large creature, and if it decided to mount an attack with its bill on your face, it could surely do some damage. It could break a bone, even damage an eye, could even render an eye sightless
When we caught mute swans to ring them we were always very careful not to let those strong wings get out of control. When we were younger the story used to be that those wings could break an arm or a leg. Aidan put safety high on his agenda and made sure the bird could do no harm.
The swan had a hook and spinner stuck in its mouth. It could not get rid of the unwanted appendix, its feeding was suffering, and altogether life was very unpleasant for the creature. It could have died. Members of the public reported this happening. Aidan put on his Good Samaritan clothes and went to the Waterworks. After he made the swan safe he then had to extricate the fishing gear from the swan's mouth. It was tricky, and he wished to harm the swan as little as possible. Inevitably there was some pain as the hook was extracted.
Can you imagine escaping pain if you had a big hook stuck in your mouth, a hook which by its very nature is very difficult to remove. Aidan removed the hook, causing as little pain and damage as possible, and released the bird.
The onlookers, many of whom reported the bird in the first place, were overjoyed. Aidan was delighted to be able to help. The swan did not say thanks, but he thought it. When Aidan showed me the hook that evening, I wondered at the size of it, and rejoiced in the happy ending to the story. When I was young I used to fish, but I do not remember any disasters like the swan's story. Nor am I sure how this thing happened. Was the fisherperson careless? Was the swan stupid? Should fishing be allowed there ? If we were fishing, should we not keep our distance from swans?
I do not know the answer to these questions. But could more be done to prevent a repeat?
Then last week we saw some young hedgehogs. Because we have hedgehogs regularly in the back garden, and occasionally in the front garden, we think we know something about them. But we had more to learn. Because our friend and neighbour Lottie left out milk for the hedgehogs at night, we assumed that this was the correct thing to do. Not so, we were told by hedgehog man Nigel. Milk not good for them, he said. But what then, we asked. Why, cat food and dog food, we were told. So If you have hedgehogs, and want to feed them, leave out some cat and dog food. the next question is, how do you keep the cats and dogs away? Even without cat food and dog food in the garden, we have unwanted cats and dogs every day.
Then the question arose, (there are always questions when you are with an expert), why do some hedgehogs not hibernate in the winter?
The young hedgehogs we saw were insufficiently advanced to hibernate. The adult can go around stuffing himself with food, and indeed that is just what she does, until there is surplus of flesh covering the body. During the long winter sleep, that flesh will act as an insulant to keep out the cold, and reserves of it will enter into the digestive system of the animal, to enable the body to keep ticking over.
In a state of hibernation, heat is being preserved, there is no movement, so very little use of body resources. This ensures that the hedgehog will wake up in the spring in good shape, especially when you consider that there has been no food intake for neigh on half a year.
So in the interest of other inhabitants of this planet, perhaps we should be more careful when we are fishing. It must be very painful to get a hook stuck in the throat ! We should also not put out milk for hedgehogs. If we have them in the garden and we want to feed them, in future let us put out dog and cat food.
Monday 13th December, Lisburn RSPB members' night, with quiz and craic at Friends' School, more from Peter on 028 9266 1982.