TECHNIQUE

Accommodation of Casualty Grebes & Divers (Loons) (Wildlife Casualty Management)

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: Gavia arctica - Arctic loon, Gavia immer - Common loon, Gavia stellata - Red-throated loon, Podiceps auritus - Horned grebe, Podiceps cristatus - Great crested grebe, Podiceps grisegena - Red-necked grebe, Podiceps nigricollis - Black-necked grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis - Little grebe.

These species are from the families Podicipedidae, Gaviidae.

  • Both grebes and divers have their legs set well back on their body. Grebes move very poorly on land and divers (loons) are unable to walk at all. Padded bedding/flooring is required if they are off water.
  • These species are prone to developing secondary problems while in captivity
  • Every effort should be made to minimise their time in care.

Transport Containers:

  • Cardboard box with ample padding provided by e.g. several layers of folded towels.
  • Wire baskets are not suitable - bill damage may result from constant stabbing at the wire.
  • Must be sufficiently padded to support the bird without injuring the keel
  • Sufficient holes must be present for ventilation.
  • (B151)

Short term (Immediate/Emergency) Accommodation:

  • Net-bottomed cage:
    • A cage with a bottom or false bottom made from soft nylon netting stretched over a wooden frame.
    • Droppings fall through, reducing feather soiling.
    • Reduced friction on feathers, legs and keel.
    • (B197.15.w15)
  • Box with soft bedding such as foam rubber mats, deeply-layered newspaper or old towels. (B197.15.w15, B225)

Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation:

  • These birds require padded bedding/flooring to protect the keel when out of water; maintenance at a specialist facility is recommended. (D24)
  • Net-bottomed cage i.e. a cage with a bottom or false bottom made from soft nylon netting stretched over a wooden frame.
    • Droppings fall through, reducing feather soiling
    • Reduced friction on feathers, legs and keel
    • (B197.15.w15)
  • Box or pen with soft bedding such as foam rubber mats.
    • Deeply-layered newspaper or old towels may be used if foam matting is not available.
  • Provide access to water for bathing if possible, surrounded by e.g. foam rubber matting.
  • (B118.18.w18, B197.15.w15, B225, D24, D28)

Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation:

  • Maintenance at a specialist facility is recommended 
  • Accommodation should provide unrestricted access to a pool of reasonable size.
  • Flooring should be soft and padded, e.g. foam rubber
  • Water should be kept clean e.g. by surface skimming and filtration.
  • Access to the water should be available in several places

(B118.18.w18, B151, B197.15.w15, B225, D24, D28)

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.
Notes
  • Both grebes and divers have their legs set well back on their body; they cannot support their weight on their legs alone and they rarely come onto land. Grebes move very poorly on land and divers (loons) are unable to walk at all.
  • 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
  • These species are prone to developing secondary problems while in captivity, particularly if kept off water, such as keel lesions.
  • These birds are at high risk of developing aspergillosis while in care. Prophylactic treatment with itraconazole may be indicated. See: Aspergillosis in Birds
  • Every effort should be made to minimise their time in care.
  • Seclusion from humans is particularly important for these easily-stressed birds.
  • Padded bedding/flooring must be provided if they are kept off water and access to water for swimming should be provided as soon as the bird's condition allows.
  • Maintenance off water may lead to cloacal impaction. (B10.23.w27)
  • If kept off water the foot webbing rapidly dries and requires application of emollient lotion/ petroleum jelly. (D24, B197.15.w15)
    • Plumage contaminated with e.g. petroleum jelly must be washed before birds are placed on water. (B197.15.w15)
  • Plumage rapidly becomes contaminated in captivity; access to water sufficient for bathing is required to maintain plumage condition (B118.18.w18, D24, D28). 
  • If the plumage of these birds becomes contaminated while they are maintained off water, a hand wash of the plumage may be necessary before they can be introduced to a pool.
  • Birds whose plumage are not sufficiently waterproof are at risk of waterlogging, hypothermia and drowning if given access to a deep pool. Risks may be minimised by adequate observation and by a design allowing birds to leave the pool easily.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • A net-bottomed cage can be constructed from a transport kennel (pet carrier): remove the top, place netting (1/4 inch netting is suggested as it is elastic, washable and has a soft texture) across the bottom (not too tight) and secure in place with cable ties. Replace the top.
  • Most materials required for the construction of cages and aviaries may be obtained from standard fencing or farm-equipment stores.
  • Construction of rehabilitation accommodation suitable for these species requires some expertise.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Maintenance at a specialist facility is recommended (D24)
Cost/ Availability
  • The cost of constructing suitable longer term accommodation may be considerable.
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 a species on Schedule 9 of that Act, or a species not ordinarily resident in the UK is allowed to escape from accommodation in which it is being housed.
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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