Accommodation of Casualty Garden Birds etc. (Small Passerines) (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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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 groups: 

Transport Container:

  • Small birds may be transported for short periods within a cloth bag with a draw-string opening, suspended so the bird is cradled in the bag. (B169.43.w43, B224)
  • Transfer to a suitable box (e.g. cardboard) for longer journeys. (B169.43.w43)

Short term (Immediate/Emergency) Accommodation:

  • Small secure cardboard box with ventilation holes and newspaper or kitchen paper is considered suitable for short periods.
  • Small birds must eat frequently to survive and should therefore be supplied with food and sufficient light to feed if left in box accommodation for more than a short period.
    • Opening the top of the box and covering the open end with a net curtain or similar thin pale cloth is one way to achieve this. (B203)
  • Provide a perch in the box, of a suitable size for the bird to grip comfortably.
  • 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.
  • Place in a quiet place way from the sight and smell of humans, cats, dogs etc.
  • A heated, thermostatically-controlled hospital cage or commercial incubator may be useful for short term accommodation of sick and shocked small birds.
  • (B203, B224, B225)

Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation:

  • Avicultural "breeder" cages are suitable; these have three solid sides to the cage and a front of vertical wires. Part (e.g. half) of the wire front should be covered with a cloth to provide extra seclusion and security. Complete covering with thin pale cloth  (e.g. white tea-towel or net curtain) which provides seclusion by does not make the cage dark may be necessary for very nervous birds.
  • A sliding floor tray covered with newspaper and/or kitchen towel may be useful. The trays allow the cage to be cleaned without the need to open the cage or catch and handle the bird.
  • Standard bird cages (with all sides wire) may also be used but must be mostly covered with a sheet or towel to provide security.
  • A small access door into the cage is recommended to permit feeding or catching birds without their escape.
  • A range of natural perches should be provided at a variety of heights within the cage. Ample perches must be available for the number of birds kept in the cage.
  • Provide a tray with substrate allowing probing for items of food.
  • (B169.43.w43, B203, B224, B225)

Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation:

  • Aviary accommodation should be used for at least two weeks prior to release for hand-reared fledglings and for birds which have been in care for several weeks and may require reacclimatisation to the outdoors and time to regain feather condition and flight fitness.
  • Standard small aviary design with small mesh size to prevent escape of small birds.
  • Many of these birds are easily stressed.
  • Minimise human disturbance and enable birds to shelter out of sight. 
  • Build on a concrete base, a brick base two feet into the ground or wire mesh the floor to minimise access of vermin to the aviary.
  • The length of the aviary should be sufficient to allow flight.
  • Standard aviaries with weld mesh or chicken wire may be used.
  • Part of the aviary should have a solid roof and sides to provide shelter and perching sufficient for all the occupants of the aviary should be available in this area.
  • About two thirds of the roof should be covered only by wire mesh to encourage re-acclimatisation to the outdoors.
  • For a solitary aviary a safety porch (double door) system should be used to minimise the risk of birds escaping. For a row of aviaries doors may open into a safety corridor.
  • Sand or gravel over a concrete base may be used for substrate; this may be particularly useful for rehabilitation aviaries as the substrate can be removed and replaced to prevent build up of parasites and other pathogenic microorganisms.
  • Ledges as well as perches should be provided.
  • Grassed aviaries may also be used, particularly for permanent accommodation. These provide a greater variety of shelter and occupation for the occupants.
  • A shallow pool or bowl sufficiently large to allow the birds to bathe should be provided.
  • Privacy and seclusion should be provided within the aviary by plants such as bushes and small trees.
  • Plantings outside the aviary will provide further seclusion.
  • Provision should be made to enable observation of the occupants of aviary without the birds knowing they are being watched. This could be a long line-of sight allowing observation with binoculars, a peephole or a camera.
  • Controlled access to a shallow water bath should be available during the day; this may be removed at night to avoid birds drowning if they become frightened and panic.
  • Provide a tray with substrate allowing probing for items of food (B169.43.w43).
  • Consider vermin control and prevent vermin access to the aviary.

(B151, B169.43.w43, B203))

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.
  • There are major variations in the speed and adaptation of birds to captivity. For example Turdus merula - Eurasian blackbird settle much less well and are more stressed than Sturnus vulgaris - Common starling. (B169.43.w43)
  • Including within a cage or aviary a tray with substrate in which birds can probe for food provides an important opportunity for many birds to exhibit this natural behaviour. Some species will probe for food in preference to eating the same food provided in a dish.
  • Provision of water for bathing as well as for drinking is important for most birds.
  • 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
  • Most wild birds are easily stressed by captivity and close proximity to humans. It is important to minimise human disturbance and enable birds to shelter out of sight. (B169.43.w43)
  • Water bowls or pools provided for bathing must be shallow and should have one or more stones in them on which birds can stand, to reduce the risk of waterlogging and drowning.
    • This is particularly important for hand reared fledglings and other birds which have been kept inside for several weeks and may have lost some of their normal feather condition and waterproofing.
  • 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
  • Construction of long term accommodation may be expensive; the cost is generally proportional to the size of the aviary 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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