Alexandra Hawthorn

School of Biological and Environmental Sciences

I am a BSc Wildlife Conservation graduate from LJMU. After working closely with RSPCA Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre for several years, I am now researching poor feather condition in UK Corvidae species.

Supervisory Team: DoS Dr Claudia Mettke-Hofmann, Dr Alan Gunn and Dr Robbie Rae.

Corvidae species are admitted to RSPCA wildlife centres every year; however, a considerable proportion of these individuals are euthanized due to poor feather condition. More specifically, one third of all Corvidae admissions were euthanized due to poor feather condition in 2016 (n=293). Research is limited into the extent and cause of this issue. The first aim of this study is to quantify this issue. This will be achieved by analysing past admissions data from RSPCA Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre. In addition, the feather condition of a large number of Corvidae cadavers will be assessed for characteristic traits of poor quality. The second aim of this study is to investigate possible causes of poor feather condition in Corvidae species. This will provide information in areas where research is lacking. This will be achieved using a variety of diagnostic and investigative methods. The third aim of this study is to improve the welfare of rehabilitated Corvidae species by means of creating a feather scoring system for the RSPCA. This aims to make decisions more efficiently about the likely rehabilitation success of an individual during triage. If the score is low, then individuals can be euthanized at an appropriate time. This will save time and resources, and will consequently improve the welfare of individuals which would otherwise spend unnecessary time in a potentially stressful captive environment.

Key Studies:
Historical admissions data analysis 2013-2016
Feather fault bar density
Feather iridescence (Ocean Optics equipment)
Feather microstructure and chemical composition (SEM-EDX Scanning Electron Microscope - Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy )
Gender and body condition (Post-mortem)
Internal Helminth burden (DNA extraction, PCR and DNA sequencing)
Hormonal Corticosterone (ELISA Corticosterone Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbant Assay)
Feather protein characteristics (PAGE Polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis)
Creation of RSPCA Feather Scoring System


2016, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom, BSc Wildlife Conservation