The RSPCA fears chickens are being abandoned after lots of people went out and bought chicks during lockdown and now can’t take care of them - particularly in light of bird flu warnings.

The animal welfare charity, which operates across England and Wales, is concerned at the number of hens and cockerels being abandoned and fears rescue centres will be overrun with birds soon.

This year, the RSPCA has dealt with 1,594 incidents related to chickens across England and Wales and has had abandonment incidents relating to 1,562 birds.

The charity has also taken 280 chickens into its centres for rehoming.

In Somerset the RSPCA has dealt with 29 chicken incidents this year while in neighbouring Bristol they have been eight incidents.

A spokesperson for the RSPCA, said: “Concerns were raised during lockdown about the increase in pet acquisition and ownership, and we feared that people would soon lose interest and start to hand their animals over once life started to return to normal.

“In the spring, many hen producers reported huge surges in demand for chicks and we believe this may be because people panic bought birds due to shortages of eggs in the supermarkets but, due to the shops being better stocked, are now ‘surplus to requirement."

There are also concerns that some families may have taken on unsexed chicks, which have grown into noisy cockerels so are now being abandoned.

The charity said dozens of hens and cockerels have been dumped in recent weeks, sparking fears that charities and rescue centres will soon be overrun with unwanted chickens.

For example, on December 2 a cockerel was found straying in a garden in Poole, Dorset.

Neighbours spotted the bird and confined him. He was collected by inspector Tina Ward and taken in by RSPCA West Hatch Animal Centre near Taunton.

The RSPCA fears that this problem could worsen as cases of bird flu are confirmed across the country, in both wild birds and captive birds. The charity recommends the owners of all captive birds follow the Government’s biosecurity advice.

Kate Parkes, poultry welfare specialist at the RSPCA, said: “It’s really important that owners follow Government biosecurity advice to help protect the health of their birds as well as to try and limit the spread of the virus. All pet poultry owners need to stay vigilant for signs of disease in their flocks and it’s vital they seek veterinary advice if they have any concerns for their birds."