Accommodation of Casualty Seabirds (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: Alle alle - Dovekie (Little auk), Alca torda - Razorbill, Cepphus grylle - Black guillemot, Fratercula arctica - Atlantic puffin, Fulmarus glacialis - Northern fulmar, Hydrobates pelagicus - European storm-petrel , Morus bassanus - Northern gannet, Oceanodroma leucorhoa - Leach's storm-petrel, Phalacrocorax carbo - Great cormorant, Phalacocorax aristotelis - European Shag, Puffinus griseus - Sooty shearwater, Puffinus puffinus - Manx shearwater, Uria aalge - Common murre (Common guillemot).

These species are from the families Laridae, Phalacrocoracidae, Procellariidae, Sulidae.

Transport Container:

  • Cardboard box may not be sufficiently strong for larger seabirds, 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. (P24.335.w14)
  • Substrate (flooring) must be non-abrasive, soft and easily cleanable or frequently changed.
  • Rubber matting, alone or covered with thick towels may be used, also thick towels alone (if the base of the accommodation is not slippery i.e. not plastic, tiles or bare metal), sponge matting such as camping mats.
  • Quiet warm box with towel as substrate for adequate grip. (D24)
  • 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, P24.335.w14)
    • Cotton netting, mesh size 11-18mm, with e.g. PVC pipe as a frame, the netting stretched over the frame and hooked onto the frame with screws placed every 5cm on the bottom of the frame. Net must be smooth, without abrasive knots. Frame should be at least 15 cm from the true floor of the container. (P24.335.w21).
  • Box with soft bedding such as rubber mats, deeply-layered newspaper or old towels. (B197.15.w15, B225)
  • 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.
    • (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. (B225, J23.17.w1, P24.335.w14, P24.335.w21)
  • Sand, 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.
    • Even critically ill individuals may need to be placed in warm water for short periods to encourage defecation.
    • (P24.335.w20).
  • Ensure access to drinking water, at all times. (B118.18.w18)
  • Perches should be available for species which use them. 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)
  • Good ventilation and cleaning is important to minimise exposure to respiratory pathogens (particularly Aspergillus fumigatus). (B336.13.w13)
  • Provide protection from cold weather. (B336.13.w13)

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.
  • 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 (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 salt water 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: cormorants 50cm, shearwaters 30cm small petrel 30cm, large petrels 50cm. (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)
  • Changing sand about every week (slightly longer if raked regularly and at shorter intervals in wet weather). (J23.15.w2)
  • 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)
    • However, clay litter, while absorbing faecal matter, dries out the feet. (J23.33.w2)
  • A grassed (turfed) area may be used; effort is required to keep this clean. (P24.335.w14, P24.335.w21)
  • Soft rubber or vinyl matting may be useful in resting areas (J23.17.w1)
    • In many zoos, a polyvinyl hose-through matting is used on land areas of enclosures, allowing faeces and urates to drop through, and easily drying out after hosing down, thereby providing a dry substrate. (J23.33.w2)
  • 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, for e.g. cormorants.
    • 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.
    • It is important to ensure than cormorants are provided with sufficient dry areas to stand and allow their plumage to dry. 
    • (B97, B224, B336.13.w13, P24.335.w21)
  • Seclusion/Burrows:
  • Towels or similar cloth hung vertically inside the enclosure may be used to provide visual barriers for birds to hide behind; these must not have frayed edges which birds may become tangled in.
  • Leafy branches hung in corners may be used to provide cover.
  • Burrowing species may appreciate a box with a hole or pipe entrance.
  • (P24.335.w21)
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.
    • 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)
  • Surface (substrate) of any container must be non-abrasive and non-slip. 
  • When choosing a transport container, consider the need for removing the bird safely at the end of its journey.
  • Transport birds one to a box. (P24.335.w20).
  • A transport container which does not allow the wings to be fully stretched may be preferable as this prevents the bird from flapping while in the box and therefore reduces the risk of feather damage. (P24.335.w20)
  • Accommodation should be sufficiently large to allow the occupant to stand and to stretch. (P24.335.w20)
  • House gregarious species such as gannets and shearwaters together when possible and in visual contact when individual containers are used. (P24.335.w14)
  • House solitary species in individual accommodation. (P24.335.w14)
  • Avoid housing competitors near one another. (P24.335.w14)
  • Net bottomed accommodation requires the net frame to be changed about twice a day, with the frame being disinfected and the net removed and washed. (P24.335.w21)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Plastic cat-carrying boxes must be used with rubber on the floor to provide a non-slip surface and are not suitable for long distance transport due to the development of condensation (P24.335.w20, V.w26)
  • Good ventilation and cleaning is important to minimise exposure to respiratory pathogens (particularly Aspergillus fumigatus). (B336.13.w13)
  • Do not use hay, straw or shredded paper as a substrate due to the risk of respiratory infections such as aspergillosis (see: Aspergillosis in Birds (with special reference to Waterfowl)) and of strands getting tangled around legs. (B97, P24.335.w14)
  • Abrasive or slippery substrates (floor coverings) are inappropriate (P24.335.w20); both concrete and artificial turf should be avoided. (P24.335.w14)
  • Appropriate non-abrasive substrate, kept clean, is important to reduce the risk of the development of secondary problems such as bumblefoot and hock lesions. See: Bumblefoot (with special reference to Waterfowl).
  • Land areas which allow birds to dry themselves completely (including feet) are important (B10.23.w27)
  • Towels with frayed edges, and hessian sacking, are not suitable as substrates in accommodation, including transport containers, due to the risk of loose threads getting caught around parts of the bird and the bird's toes getting caught in the weave of the cloth. (P24.335.w20)
  • There is a risk of feathers becoming damaged whenever wire netting is used, even just the door or windows of a transport kennel/pet carrier. (P24.335.w20)
  • Enclosures used for birds requiring repeated capture (e.g. for medication) should be small enough to avoid the need for chasing. (P24.335.w20)
  • 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
  • Plastic cat-carrying boxes are available from veterinary suppliers.
  • Transport kennels (pet carriers) of various sizes are available from many pet stores.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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 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 MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Becki Lawson (V.w26); Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6)

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