Accommodation of Casualty Gulls & Terns (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: Childonais niger - Black tern, Larus marinus - Great black-backed gull, Larus argentatus - Herring gull, Larus canus - Mew gull, Larus fuscus - Lesser black-backed gull, Larus ridibundus - Common black-headed gull, Larus melanocephalus - Mediterranean gull, Larus minutus - Little gull, Rissa tridactyla - Black-legged kittiwake, Stercorarius parasiticus - Parasitic jaeger, Stercorarius pomarinus - Pomarine jaeger, Sterna albifrons - Little tern, Sterna bengalensis - Lesser crested-tern, Sterna dougallii - Roseate tern, Sterna hirundo - Common tern, Sterna paradisaea - Arctic tern, Sterna sandvicensis - Sandwich tern, Catharacta skua - Great skua.

These species are from the family Laridae.

Transport Container:

  • Cardboard boxes of an appropriate size, such as cat-carrying boxes, may be used.
    • Cardboard box may not be sufficiently strong for larger birds, particularly when the base gets wet or oily (P24.335.w20).
  • Plastic cat-carrying box, with rubber on the floor to provide a non-slip surface, covered with thick towels is suitable for short-term transport. (P24.335.w20, V.w26)
  • Transport kennel (pet carrier), with the door and any windows covered with a towel to reduce visual stress (P24.335.w20).
  • Wooden box, with smooth inside walls. Floor must be padded as for other boxes. (P24.335.w20)
  • Container should be sufficiently large to allow the occupant to stand and to stretch its neck.
  • Container does not need to be large enough to allow the wings to be fully opened.

Short term (Immediate/Emergency) Accommodation:

  • Keep in a quiet place away from noise and other animals, particularly dogs and cats, also away from constant human activity.
  • Cardboard boxes of an appropriate size, such as cat-carrying boxes, may be used for initial short term accommodation.
    • Cardboard box may not be sufficiently strong for larger birds, particularly when the base gets wet or oily (P24.335.w20).
  • 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.
  • Substrate of newspaper covered by a towel to provide a better grip.
  • Rubber matting may be used as a substrate e.g. sponge matting camping mats; these are easy to clean.
  • Heating, if required (for birds which are fluffed up and depressed or in poor condition) using an infra red heat lamp, wrapped hot water bottle, electric heater heat pad or low wattage/red coloured light bulb.
    • Provide a temperature gradient, allowing the bird to choose its most comfortable position relative to the heat source.
    (B197.15.w15, B225, D24, P24.335.w14)

Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation:

  • Provide accommodation which is as quiet and private as possible, away from noise and other animals, particularly dogs and cats, also away from constant human activity. (P24.335.w14)
  • Accommodation should be large enough to allow the bird to stand, stretch and flap its wings.
  • Area small enough to make catching easy without chasing if repeated handling is required (e.g. for assisted feeding or medication).
  • Soft rubber/sponge matting may be used (e.g. camping sleep mat) as an appropriate substrate (flooring). It is easily hosed clean and is soft, but can be very slippery. May need weighting down e.g. with rocks to prevent it slipping on the underlying floor. Rocks may be covered in towels or rubber to avoid abrasive surfaces.
  • Sand may be a useful substrate; this should be spot-cleaned, raked daily, changed regularly. (B225)
  • Provide access to water for bathing after first 48 hours, initially for short periods e.g. five minutes; access to water sufficient for bathing is required to maintain plumage condition.
    • If an individual becomes very wet after bathing, ensure the bird can be kept warm while it dries.
    • (B118.18.w18, D28)
  • Pools, if not built in to the enclosure, may be e.g. a children's paddling/swimming pool, large plastic container etc.
    • Provide a means of easy access to and exit from the water, e.g. long sheet of rubber matting draped into the pool.
    • Weak birds should be provided with access to water only when supervised.
  • Ensure access to drinking water at all times. (B118.18.w18)
  • Perches should be available; these may be natural branches or rocks, depending on the species. Rocks may be covered with towels or rubber to avoid the risk of abrasion. (P24.335.w21)
(B118.18.w18, B203, B225, J23.17.w1, P24.335.w14, P24.335.w20, P24.335.w21, D24, D28)

Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation:

  • Should be maintained in an outdoor aviary prior to release to allow flight and re-adaptation to the external environment.
  • Settle well in a large aviary; can only be group housed with other birds sufficiently large and strong to defend themselves.
  • Large aviary, with weldmesh netting.
    • Wire must be thick (14 or 16 gauge), as rounded as possible and without sharp edges (P24.335.w21)
  • Wooden slatting (raptor slats) may be preferable; this reduces feather damage and prevents bird from clinging to the sides of the enclosure. (P24.335.w21)
  • Thick plastic/tarpaulin may be used to line enclosures and cover wire (on the inside of the wire). (P24.335.w21)
  • Water: 
  • Accommodation should provide unrestricted access to a pool of reasonable size, particularly for species which spent long periods on water away from land (D28, B224)
    • Surface skimming of pools is highly recommended and is essential for birds which have been oiled or if oily fish is being fed (as this may contaminate the water).
    • Easy exit from the water is essential, either a gentle slope or water flush with the top of the pool is suggested.
    • Ramps may be used to provide easy access to/from the water; it is important that several ramps are provided so that aggressive birds cannot prevent more timid birds from entering or leaving the water. (V.w5, V.w26).
    • Fresh water is preferred for birds regaining waterproofing after oiling.
    • If saltwater is required, fresh water may be salted with 10kg aquarium salt per 300 litres water .(P24.335.w21)
    • Water depth should allow birds to swim without their feet scraping the bottom of the pool. Suggested minimum depths include: terns and gulls 25cm. (P24.335.w21)
  • Substrate:
    • Sand (dry and well-drained) is suitable as a substrate. (P24.335.w14)
    • Sand should be spot-cleaned and raked daily and the sand changed regularly. (B225, P24.335.w21)
    • Well-drained pea gravel and clay-based cat litter have both been reported as useful for preventing the development of foot lesions. (B10.23.w27)
    • A grassed (turfed) area may be used; effort is required to keep this clean. (P24.335.w14, P24.335.w21)
  • Perches:
    • Natural branches should be provided for perching species.
    • Perches over the water but above water level for many species.
    • Logs and branches partially submerged, and allowing perching with the tail feathers totally out of the water.
    • Resting platform e.g. a floating wooden platform anchored by tying to a cement brick.
    • Providing rocks to stand on may assist in keeping feet in good condition for some species; covering the rocks with e.g. rubber may be useful to prevent abrasion of feet.
(B10.23.w27, B97, B224, P24.335.w21, D24, D28, V.w5, V.w26)
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.
  • Gull accommodation rapidly becomes fouled with faeces and discarded food and is likely to require cleaning more frequently than with many other species.
  • Hand washing of the bird's plumage may be required before release into an enclosure with access to a pool as significant contamination and loss of waterproofing may have occurred if the bird had been kept off water for a prolonged period.
  • Careful monitoring is required when first given access to a pool to ensure that the bird is not becoming waterlogged.
  • 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
  • Birds given access to a deep pool are at risk of waterlogging, hypothermia and drowning if their plumage is not sufficiently waterproof. Risks may be minimised by adequate observation and by a design allowing birds to leave the pool easily.
  • 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
  • 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 long-term accommodation may require 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 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

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