Accommodation of Casualty Waders (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

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: Ardea cinerea - Grey heron, Botaurus stellaris - Great bittern, Platalea leucorodia - Eurasian spoonbill, Arenaria interpres - Ruddy turnstone, Bartramia longicauda - Upland sandpiper, Burhinus oedicnemus - Eurasian thick-knee (Stone curlew), Calidris alba - Sanderling, Calidris alpina - Dunlin, Calidris ferruginea - Curlew sandpiper, Calidris maritima - Purple sandpiper, Calidris minuta - Little stint, Calidris temminckii - Temminck's stint, Calidris canutus - Red knot, Calidris tenuirostris - Great knot, Charadrius dubius - Little ringed plover, Charadrius hiaticula - Common ringed plover, Crex crex - Corn crake, Eudromias morinellus - Eurasian dotterel, Fulica atra - Common coot - Common coot, Gallinago gallinago - Common snipe, Gallinula chloropus - Common moorhen, Haematopus ostralegus - Eurasian oystercatcher, Limosa lapponica - Bar-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa - Black-tailed godwit, Lymnocryptes minimus - Jack snipe, Numenius arquata - Eurasian curlew, Numenia phaeropus - Whimbrel, Phaloropus fulicaria - Red phalarope, Phalaropus lobatus - Red-necked phalarope, Philomachus pugnax - Ruff, Pluvialis apricaria - Eurasian golden plover, Pluvialis squatarola - Grey plover, Porzana porzana - Spotted crake, Rallus aquaticus - Water rail, Recurvirostra avosetta - Pied avocet, Scolopax rusticola - Eurasian woodcock, Tringa erythropus - Spotted redshank, Tringa glareola - Wood sandpiper, Tringa hypoleucos - Common sandpiper, Tringa nebularia - Common greenshank, Tringa ochropus - Green sandpiper, Tringa totanus - Common redshank, Vanellus vanellus - Northern lapwing.

These species are from the families Rallidae, Scolopacidae, Burhinidae, Charadriidae.

  • These birds are generally delicate and easily stressed. It is important to keep the accommodation as quiet as possible.
  • It is important to ensure that the flooring for long-legged birds provides secure, non-slip footing.
  • With species such as waders, whereby some species are social and others highly territorial, the information on species-specific behaviour should be consulted when deciding whether to house animals in groups or individually.

    (V.w5, V.w6)

Transport Containers:

  • Waders are mainly long-legged birds 
  • It is important to ensure that the substrate (flooring) in any container for long-legged birds provides a secure grip (V.w5)
  • Transport in a box or crate sufficiently tall for the bird to stand upright.
    • If a sufficiently tall box is not available, extra height may be provided by replacing a rigid top with a loose piece of hessian sacking or similar cloth.
  • Small species such as coots and moorhens may be carried in standard cardboard boxes lined with newspaper.
    • A towel should be provided over the newspaper whenever possible.
  • (B118.18.w18, B151, B224, D24, V.w5)

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)
  • Cardboard box of appropriate size is suitable for most species initially.
  • A non-slip non-abrasive substrate should be provided:
    • Newspaper should be avoided if possible as it does not provide a good grip.
    • Carpet may provide a better grip.
    • Foam rubber matting (e.g. camping mats) may be used; this is soft, not-abrasive and easily washed clean.
    • Hay, straw, shredded paper etc. are not suitable due to the risk of aspergillosis and tangling round the legs.
  • Air holes should be present for ventilation, at a height which does not easily allow the bird to see out of the box but which allows light to enter for birds to feed (e.g. holes near the floor 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, particularly if the bird is weak or has limited mobility.
    • Place heat at one end or side of the accommodation to provide a temperature gradient so that the bird can choose the most comfortable temperature.
  • The container should be sufficiently tall to allow the bird to stand and stretch its neck, and wide enough to allow it to stretch its wings.

(D24, B151, P24.335.w20)

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)
  • Provide a shelter such as a box in which the bird can get out of sight.
  • Coots, moorhens and water rails may be kept in a standard cage of sufficient size, with newspaper as a substrate. Cover the front of the cage to provide privacy. (B151)
  • 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 (B118.18.w18, D28)
  • If a bird becomes very wet after bathing, ensure it can be kept warm while it dries
  • Ensure access to drinking water at all times.
  • Moist newspaper, sand or peat may be useful (B224)
  • Sand, spot-cleaned, raked daily, changed regularly (B225)
(B118.18.w18, B224, B225, P24.335.w14, D24, D28)

Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation:

  • These species may be kept in an aviary
  • The length of the aviary should be sufficient to allow flight and exercise.
  • Many of these birds are easily stressed. Particular care should be taken to ensure that the aviary accommodation ensures quiet and privacy: minimise human disturbance and enable birds to shelter out of sight. 
  • Consider the use of a brick base two feet into the ground or wire mesh the floor to minimise access of vermin to the aviary.
  • Weldmesh is suitable for enclosing the aviary
  • 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.
  • At least 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 over a concrete base may be used for substrate for rehabilitation aviaries as the substrate can be removed and replaced to prevent build up of parasites and other pathogenic microorganisms.
    • should be spot-cleaned and raked daily and changed regularly (B225)
  • Grassed aviaries may also be used, particularly for permanent accommodation. These provide a greater variety of shelter and occupation for the occupants.
  • 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 shallow pool or bowl sufficiently large to allow the birds to bathe should be provided.
  • Water depth should allow birds to swim without their feet scraping the bottom of the pool. Suggested minimum depth for small waders is 25 cm. (P24.335.w21)
  • A sloping edge or multiple ramps e.g. of long strips of rubber matting should be provided for easy entry and exit from the water.
  • 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.
  • Consider vermin control and prevent vermin access to the aviary.
  • Small species (e.g. Calidris spp.) may require separate accommodation from larger species to avoid bullying and ensure adequate feeding. (J23.17.w2)

Species-specific notes

  • Recurvirostra avosetta - Pied avocet may develop foot lesions quickly if a substrate which is too hard or too dry is provided (J23.19.w1); feet are susceptible to frostbite. Indoor aviary suggested for winter, with turf or damp peat substrate, frequently changed, a small pool, and heated sufficiently to remain frost-free (B97).
  • Vanellus vanellus - Northern lapwing: Aviary with a shallow pool. Protection from frost in winter usually settle well in captivity.(B97)
  • Haematopus ostralegus - Eurasian oystercatcher: settle well in an aviary (B97)
  • Pluvialis apricaria - Eurasian golden plover: settle well in well-turfed, with a shallow pool surrounded by an area of dry stony sand. Provide protection from frost and severe winter weather. (B97)
  • Charadrius dubius - Little ringed plover . Settle well in an aviary. Need protection in winter. (B97)
  • Numenius arquata - Eurasian curlew: Settle well in an aviary. Large well-turfed aviary is recommended. Shallow pool should be provided, preferably with an adjacent soft mud (boggy) area for the birds to probe - prevents bill becoming overgrown. Provide protection from frost at night. (B97).
  • Limosa limosa - Black-tailed godwit Settle well in an aviary. Large well-turfed aviary is recommended. Shallow pool should be provided, preferably with an adjacent soft mud (boggy) area for the birds to probe. Provide protection from frost at night(B97).
  • Tringa totanus - Common redshank Settle well in an aviary. Large well-turfed aviary is recommended. Shallow pool should be provided, preferably with an adjacent soft mud (boggy) area for the birds to probe. Provide protection in severe weather - feet easily frost-bitten (B97).
  • Tringa ochropus - Green sandpiper Aviary with a pool and surrounding area of soft mud for probing. settle well. (B97).
  • Tringa hypoleucos - Common sandpiper Shallow pool very important. (B97).
  • Arenaria interpres - Ruddy turnstone Damp very clean ground important to prevent foot problems. Provide sand to dig in and stones to look under. Need shallow pan or pool to bathe in every day. N.B. prefer to roost, and rest in the day, well above ground level on a thick perch or on top of a raised nest box (B97).
  • Calidris alpina - Dunlin as for other small waders (B97).
  • Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus - Eurasian thick-knee): Require dry, very well-drained substrate, also protection and a little warmth in winter(B97).
  • Philomachus pugnax - Ruff: Settle well in an aviary. Require protection from frost and some warmth in winter (B97).
  • Botaurus stellaris - Great bittern: Aviary. Tend to be shy, need cover. "must not be allowed to stand in water when there is a risk of its becoming frozen" (B97)
  • Herons (Ardea cinerea - Grey heron): require a very large aviary, with a pool and with high perches. Cannot be kept with smaller birds. (B97)
  • Rallus aquaticus - Water rail: - Water rail: very timid. Need net-topped enclosure -tend to climb up netting rather than fly out. Cover for concealment during day (B97)
  • Gallinula chloropus - Common moorhen: - Common moorhen: settle in captivity. Aviary should have pool sufficiently large for swimming (B97).
  • Fulica atra - Common coot: - Common coot: need a large area with a pond; not suitable for small aviaries (B97)
  • Porzana porzana - Spotted crake
  • Gallinago gallinago - Common snipe: Aviary must be undisturbed; should be kept separate from other species. provide an area or at least a tray of soft mud in which they can dig for worms (J23.17.w2)
  • Scolopax rusticola - Eurasian woodcock, Aviary must be undisturbed; should be kept separate from other species. provide an area or at least a tray of soft mud in which they can dig for worms (J23.17.w2)
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.
  • It has been recommended to allow waders to rest for 48 hours between movements.
  • 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 birds are generally highly stressed by being in captivity and every effort must be made to minimise stress from noise, visual disturbance etc. (D24)
  • Many species are highly sensitive to stress
  • Particular care should be taken to ensure accommodation ensures quiet and privacy. (D28)
  • Long-legged birds such as herons must be provided with sufficient cage height to stand up. (B151)
  • Plumage condition is likely to deteriorate rapidly if birds are maintained without water for bathing for more than about two days.
  • 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 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

Return to Top of Page