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At the Swift Clinic, the goal in caring for an injured or orphaned swift is always the restoration of its ability to live in the wild, and its earliest possible release.
After proper veterinary examination and first aid, it is usually necessary during convalescence to carry out movement exercises with the patient to prevent muscular atrophy and rebuild the flight muscles. Also for patients that are forced to be kept in captivity for a long time, for example, because of plumage damage, physiotherapy is essential. For swifts which have suffered bruises, or whose wing must be kept immobile after a break, it is possible that the joints become stiff, and without extensive movement therapy, this can lead to lasting flight incapacity. Also for the psyche of the bird, which after accidents and injuries is often shocked and disoriented, it may be vital to strengthen his self-confidence through physiotherapy and flight exercises.
Swifts with feather transplants need extensive training in operational use of their flight feathers, so they can get used to their "new" plumage, and of course this also serves to check during exercise whether the transplant is successful and whether the set of feathers is also physiologically complete and in order.


How often?

Optimal is at least half an hour exercise training per day per bird. In the Swift Clinic, there is a special training room: The floor is covered with soft blankets and clean white sheets, the walls and windows are all hung with floor-length coarse cotton curtains, where the bird can cling on landing. Radiators for heating, window and door frames are padded with foam. The entire room is designed so that a flying bird cannot hurt itself anywhere. Whoever must train a swift in their own premises should think it over, and must remember that this bird reaches high speed even on short hops, and all furnishings, windows, mirrors etc. must be thoroughly made safe. As swifts often fall to the ground during practice, the floor must be well padded.



Swift in training, on a curtain © C. Haupt
Training room at the Swift Clinic © C. Lerbs


At the beginning of the physiotherapy the swift must be accustomed to the type of exercises. It is best first to put him on the padded floor, leaving him to flutter or crawl about. Very quickly he will start to use his wings and slide round the room.
Now make him hang on the curtain so that he learns that he can hold on and climb up. Some can do this as quick as a flash, so you don’t even have time to run for a chair to get the swift down from the curtain rail. Please use extreme caution while removing the swift from the curtain, as the feet are very sensitive, and they usually hold on very tight!
Never leave the bird in the training room unattended! Hazards which no one has thought of are always about. Also, a swift on the ground can very quickly be trampled under someone's feet.

Climbing exercises

Climbing the curtains, with help from both wings, strengthens the chest muscles of the bird - and is better than any expensive gym for toning up the backside and thigh muscles of the physiotherapists, who have to continually climb onto a chair, and stretch up to get the “candidate” down again. Because a swift thinks just as little as a cat at the top of a tree about how to get down alone. From his point of view it is understandable, but for the trainer it is only tolerable, unless he has the stature of a basketball player.



Climbing exercises on a curtain, © C. Haupt

Flight training

Some swifts also take off by themselves from the curtain. This can be critical if the candidate is still crippled, because he will fall down and can be hurt. You must try to find out slowly what you can expect from the bird in the beginning, and let it fly a short distance, then a little further away from the curtain. This is done with a light push with the palm of the hand. The trainer must find the right ratio of his own push and the bird’s ability to fly. The bird should neither flop to the ground nor crash into the ceiling, but he should land nicely on the curtain. So please, with feeling! The swift training room is no bowling alley.



Flight training in a safe training room © E. Brendel

Hand training

Hand training is difficult and requires much practice. If you can master it however, it is a very good way to train swifts that cannot do climbing exercises or flight training, for example because they are growing new feathers. The highly sensitive blood quills would be struck in normal training, and could break or bend. Because these “re-growth” birds are usually very restless, and they need some kind of movement, provided they do not ruin the precious new feathers.
First you put a soft blanket on the ground - so that nothing happens if the bird falls down! The swift is taken in the right hand, so he can hold on with his claws on the index and middle fingers. With the ring and little finger, gently take hold of his backside and tail from the side. The thumb is placed gently on the back of the swift, just firm enough to prevent him from jumping. In this carefully held position, most “candidates” immediately start to flap their wings.
The coach must now very carefully make sure that, 1) the bird does not twist and jump from his fingers, 2) that the flapping wings do not beat against the hand, 3) that the tail feathers are not bent or kinked in the palm of the hand, 4) that one's fingers do not come from behind and get into the fine arm primaries of the swift and bend them, 5) ) that the bird is not crushed from sheer force in the hand ... - All simultaneously! Hand training is clearly physiotherapy for advanced trainers.

Hand training © C. Haupt
Who is training whom? © C. Haupt


Other forms of physiotherapy

As with the rehabilitation of people, swifts can also be treated successfully with stretching, acupressure and light massage with the fingertips. Such treatments are often surprisingly well tolerated. Sensitive fingertips, empathy and knowledge of the anatomy in this regard are essential.

It is permissible to motivate lazy birds by stroking them © E. Brendel

How long?
Until release! Exercise duration and course depend on the progress made by the candidate. Some are very quickly "back on the wing” and do expert laps in the training room. For others it may take weeks or months before flight capacity is restored according to human judgment. It is particularly important to pay attention to lameness and asymmetry of the wings, the shoulder ligaments and flight movements. If you are uncertain, it often helps to try the "turning test": lay the swift on his back – if he turns immediately back into the physiological prone position, the shoulder ligament is intact. If he cannot, or if he wriggles about helplessly with half open wings on his back, the prognosis is doubtful. Then you need to clarify urgently with an x-ray what is wrong with the bird.

For non-specialists, it can be very difficult to judge whether a convalescent swift is really fit for freedom. Do not take any risk, transfer these birds to the Swift Clinic, where due to many years of experience with thousands of swifts, it is possible to make a better assessment of injuries and their consequences.

Completion of the training session should always be a positive experience for the swifts. So always stop with a "good" flight, that is, never after a crash, a tail spin or a belly landing, but always with a successful upwards flight to the curtain. This reinforces the confidence of the bird. Talk to him while you train him, praise him and encourage him. From your voice he will feel exactly what you mean, your confidence will be transferred to him. Swifts are extremely sensitive!

When should training absolutely not be undertaken?

Never try flight exercises with unfledged young swifts! Nestlings do not need training! At most, it is appropriate to briefly try out in the training room just before releasing, whether the young fledged bird is airworthy. It often happens that one raises a young swift and is unaware that he has fallen out of the nest as a chick and has damaged a wing or shoulder ligament, and that this defect was not noticed during the whole rearing period. At take-off there is then an unpleasant surprise, and for the fledged swift a nasty crash landing in which he can be injured. A short flight test in a padded room can reveal lameness, asymmetric wing position, etc. in time.

For swifts with recent injuries, dislocations, fractures, etc. movement exercises or flying exercises must not be carried out. Contusions are extremely painful, and it is best to wait until the bird starts to move its wings on its own, before the start of physiotherapy. Also traumatized birds with concussion or shock must not be trained. After coming down, patients sometimes need days or weeks before we can make careful attempts to train them. A classic for patients after their arrival, for example, is that in a careful flight test they fall to the ground like a "lead balloon", sometimes without any wing movement. You can try tests in weekly intervals. It may take 4-6 weeks for them to recover! But then the ability to fly often returns within a few days, and the patient shows sudden improvements in performance.

Isn’t training a torment for swifts?

Quite the contrary. Most swifts, which have to stay on in human hands beyond the normal fledging period or to heal injuries, have such a strong urge to move that they never want to stop again. Daily training is essential to their well-being, quite apart from the need to keep joints and tendons supple and prevent atrophy of muscles. However, if a swift is listless and unwilling at training, claws, fluffs himself up, tries to hide, etc. then it is very likely that something is wrong with him. He may suffer for example from vitamin B deficiency or pain. It has happened during training, that due to the unusual behavior of the swift, it was discovered the bird was blind in one eye.

Buchenstraße 9
D-65933 Frankfurt

Tel.:+49(69)35 35 15 04
We accept only swifts! Questions regarding other bird species will not be answered!
Information regarding other bird species: http://www.wildvogelhilfe.org/
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