Accommodation of Casualty Birds of Prey (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Click image for full page view Click image for full page view Click image for full page view Click image for full page view Click image for full page view

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management/ Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords -N.B.  This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty Accommodation which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Accipiter gentilis - Northern goshawk, Accipiter nisus - Eurasian sparrowhawk, Aquila chrysaetos - Golden eagle, Buteo buteo - Common buzzard, Buteo lagopus - Rough-legged buzzard, Circus aeruginosus - Western marsh harrier, Circus cyaneus - Northern harrier, Circus pygargus - Montagu's harrier, Haliaeetus albicilla - White-tailed eagle, Milvus milvus - Red kite, Pernis apivorus - European honey buzzard, Pandion haliaetus - Osprey, Falco columbarius - Merlin, Falco peregrinus - Peregrine falcon, Falco subbuteo - Hobby, Falco tinnunculus - Common kestrel, Athene noctua - Little owl, Strix aluco - Tawny owl, Asio otus - Long-eared owl, Asio flammeus - Short-eared owl, Nyctea scandiaca - Snowy owl, Tyto alba - Barn owl.

These species are from the families Accipitridae, Falconidae, Strigidae, Tytonidae.

Accommodation for casualty birds of prey should be designed to minimise the disturbance of the bird.

Transport Containers:

  • Should be travelled in a box which keeps the bird in the dark.
  • Travel one bird to a box.
  • Sky kennels are not suitable.
  • A well-made wooden box with a non-slip flooring material such as carpet and similar material on the ceiling is recommended. (D18)
  • Air holes should be present on either side; ensure these are not blocked when boxes are pushed together, e.g. by fastening one-inch/2.5cm square wooden slats along the sides of the box. (D18)
  • A cardboard box may be used, with newspaper or better a non-slip substrate such as a folded towel (not hay or straw) in the bottom. (B118.16.w16)
  • Air holes should be positioned near the bottom of the box, where they do not give the bird a view out of the box. (B118.16.w16)
  • Box size should be "slightly longer than the head to tail length of the bird intended to travel, and wide and high enough for the bird to be able to stand and lie down in comfort without banging its shoulders or head, but not sufficient to turn around." (D18)
  • Carrying is easier if a handle is fixed to the top of the box. (D18)
  • A door on one end of the box which slides upwards is ideal, as this may be slid up a short distance and the legs of the bird grasped before the door is fully opened. (D18)
  • Never place in full sunlight. (D18)
  • Avoid traveling raptors in high temperatures.(D18)

Short term (Immediate/Emergency) Accommodation:

  • Cardboard boxes such as cat-carrying boxes may be used for initial short term accommodation (cat-carrier is suitable for birds up to about 1 kg weight e.g. Accipiter gentilis - Northern Goshawk).
  • Air holes should be present;
    • Positioned near the bottom of the box, where they do not give the bird a view out of the box.
  • Warmth may be provided by e.g. using a heating pad underneath the box or an infra red lamp above the box
    • Take care to avoid overheating or burns

(B118.16.w16, B156.16.w16, J23.23.w1)

Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation:

  • Preferably keep out of sight of one another and away from other species, to minimise stress and to encourage the bird to stay still rather than moving unnecessarily. (B156.16.w16, J23.23.w1)
  • Minimise disturbance. (B118.16.w16)
  • Partially or mostly covering the front of the cage may be useful to provide privacy, particularly with e.g. sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus - Eurasian sparrowhawk). (B151)
  • Accommodation should be designed to reduce the risk of the bird crashing around and damaging its feathers and cere. (B118.16.w16)
  • Consider individual behaviour in size of cage space: more space is useful for some individuals but in others increases behaviour leading to self-inflicted trauma. (B156.16.w16)
  • Should be sufficiently confined to reduce the amount the bird can crash around, particularly if the bird has a broken limb. (B118.16.w16)
  • Cage must be sufficiently wide to allow the wings to be stretched out fully (B118.16.w16, B156.16.w16). N.B. this is a legal requirement under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 unless the bird is undergoing examination or treatment by a veterinary surgeon.
  • Cage must be sufficiently large to allow the bird to stand comfortably on a perch. (B118.16.w16)
  • Minimum size for e.g. kestrel or sparrowhawk of 1 metre cube. (B156.16.w16)
  • Box-cage with a vertically barred door (bars with circular cross section) to let the light in is preferable to a wire cage. Wire cages may result in severe feather damage. (B118.16.w16)
  • Floor may be covered with newspaper, changed daily and covered with a towel or carpet for better grip. (J23.23.w1)
  • Veterinary cat kennels may be adapted by fitting a thick branch as a perch, just far enough above the floor to keep the tail feathers off the ground.
    • A suitable perch may be constructed from a branch 3-4cm diameter, cut to the width of the cage and screwed onto a block of wood, 10cm x 10cm x 6cm high at each end. (B151)
  • Provide a perching block to rest on to reduce risk of damage to tail feathers. (D24)
  • Perches must be of an appropriate design to avoid the development of bumblefoot. (D24)
  • Ensure a variety of different sizes and types of perch are available with different surface coverings such as Astroturf (Monsanto) or carpet. (B156.16.w16, J23.23.w1)
  • For owls, the perch design should allow the bird to lean against a vertical surface such as a wall while perching. (J23.23.w1)

Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation:

  • A "skylight" aviary, with all four sides enclosed with timber, and the top covered in 5cm wire mesh is generally most suitable for birds of prey during rehabilitation.
  • Suggested of size 8m x 4m x 2m high; larger may be needed for some of the larger species. (B151)
  • Perches should be at the two ends and at different heights to encourage flying upwards.
  • "Baffles" (solid sheets of wood, fastened to protrude at right angles into the aviary at flying height) may be fitted along an aviary to increase the flight path between the two ends.
  • Facilities such as peepholes or cameras are required to allow observation without disturbance.
  • One end may have a hinged area at the top which can be opened for soft release ("hacking back") if release is to take place from the site of the aviary.
  • Inner fittings of the aviary should be adjustable to meet the requirements of different species, e.g. creating more open space for falcons, but dense branches for owls.
  • Care must be taken to ensure that any wood preservatives used are dry and non-toxic by the time an enclosure is inhabited.
  • A suggested size for a permanent aviary for one to five Tyto alba - Barn owl  is 3.2 metres x 5.7 meters (10ft 5 inches by 18ft 6 inches) with a maximum height of 3.0 metres (9ft 9 inches) (D46).

(B118.16.w16. B151, B156.16.w16, J23.23.w1, D46)

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Short-term (Immediate / Emergency) Accommodation is designed to be used for a short period of time only, e.g. prior to examination, to allow basic first-aid to be carried out, while an animal requires intensive care, or while specialist accommodation is being prepared.
    • The most important requirements are warmth, quiet and dark or dim lighting.
  • Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation is designed for the short-term care of individual animals or groups of animals, particularly during treatment and rehabilitation.
    • Hospital accommodation is commonly constructed with hygiene and easy cleaning as the main considerations, but the specific needs of the patients, including behavioural needs, should also be considered.
  • Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation facilities for wildlife are generally larger and more complex than accommodation designed only for temporary occupancy.
    • In general this type of accommodation is not suitable for animals which require daily treatment.
    • A period in rehabilitation accommodation may be particularly important when an animal has been hospitalised for some time.
    • Long-term accommodation may also be required for e.g.
      • Birds which have damaged their flight feathers and cannot be released until these have moulted back.
      • When time required for recovery would make the individual too late for migration.
  • Accommodation should be designed to reduce the risk of self-inflicted injury to feathers or cere from birds crashing around. (B118.16.w16)
  • Disturbance, including visual and auditory stimulation, should be minimised.
  • In choosing or constructing accommodation it is important to consider the requirements for handling, provision of food and water, cleaning and disinfection (or disposal) of accommodation after use.
  • Accommodation should be checked daily for damage which might allow escape of the occupants or entry of predators.
  • Long term accommodation should provide room for flying, facilities for bathing and appropriate roost sites (D46).
  • If an animal is maintained in long-term care accommodation for a substantial period of time, the animal must have some form of environmental enrichment to encourage natural behaviours (possibly through food presentation techniques, cage furniture that encourages activity, or play items that would be found in its native environment). This is to reduce the risk of boredom as the animal becomes accustomed to its enclosure and the possible development of behavioural problems. (V.w6)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Risk of escape must be minimised.
  • Risk of injury to the occupant must be minimised
    • Wire cages (e.g. cat cages) are NOT suitable accommodation for birds of prey, even short term, due to the risk of feather damage (B156.16.w16).
    • Perches must be of appropriate size and design to avoid the development of bumblefoot. (D24)
  • Risk of injury to people must be minimised.
  • May be physical and/or psychological problems associated with confinement.
  • Care must be taken to ensure that any wood preservatives used are non-toxic by the time an enclosure is inhabited.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Bird breeder cages, wooden with a vertically barred front, may be found in many pet stores.
  • Most materials required for the construction of cages and aviaries may be obtained from standard fencing or farm-equipment stores.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Construction of rehabilitation accommodation suitable for these species requires some expertise.
Cost/ Availability
  • May be expensive, particularly for construction of longer term accommodation; the cost is generally proportional to the size of the accommodation and the strength and durability of construction materials used.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Accommodation for casualty wild animals should be designed to minimise the stress on the animal and to minimise the risk of injury to that animal.
  • Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to keep any bird (excluding poultry) in "a cage or other receptacle which is not sufficient in height, length or breadth to permit the bird to stretch its wings freely", except for birds which are undergoing examination or treatment by a veterinary surgeon, during transportation and for limited time periods (aggregate not exceeding 72 hours) for birds being shown at a public exhibition or competition.
  • Accommodation for casualty wild animals should be designed to minimise the stress on the animal and to minimise the risk of injury to that animal.
  • A wild animal in captivity is protected under the same welfare legislation as domestic animals, e.g. Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000; under this legislation it is an offence to treat a captive animal cruelly or to cause it unnecessary suffering.
    • This includes an obligation to provide proper attention and care.
    • The keeper has a duty to keep all wildlife casualties in a fit manner, in accommodation of a size which allows reasonable movement and with an environment suitable for its normal way of life.
    • (J35.147.w1, P19.2.w1, D27, D28)
  • Accommodation which does not fulfil the physiological and psychological requirements of the animal and results in an inadequate level of fitness at the time of release may seriously compromise the survival ability of that animal. Release of an animal which is unfit may be an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 (J35.147.w1, W5.Jan01).
  • Risks to human health, both physical and risk of zoonotic illness must be minimised: Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.
  • An offence may be committed under article 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 if an individual of a species on Schedule 9 of that Act, or any species not ordinarily resident in the UK, is allowed to escape from accommodation in which it is being housed.
  • Planning permission may be required for construction of aviaries.
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

Return to Top of Page