Release of Casualty Game Birds (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 Release 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: Alectoris rufa - Red-legged partridge, Chrysolophus pictus - Golden pheasant, Coturnix coturnix - Common quail, Lagopus lagopus - Willow ptarmigan, Lagopus mutus - Rock ptarmigan, Perdix perdix - Grey partridge, Phasianus colchicus - Common pheasant, Tetrao tetrix - Black grouse, Tetrao urogallus - Western capercaillie.

These species are from the families Phasianidae.


  • No pre-release preparation is required if these birds have been in care for a short period of time.
  • Birds which have been in care for more than a few days should be reacclimatised by housing in an outside aviary for a period of time (generally about two weeks) before release.(B203)

Release assessment/criteria:

  • Appropriate health checks should be carried out prior to release. A careful assessment (risk analysis) must be made as to the risks of released animals introducing novel pathogens (disease agents) into the wild population/environment.
    • These pathogens may have been acquired from domestic animals, other wildlife casualties or humans whilst the animal was in captivity.
    • The health checks should be designed to minimise the risk that pathogens posing a threat to wild populations of this or other species will be introduced into the environment when the animal is released.
    • (V.w5, V.w6, P28.2000.w1, J15.20.w3)
  • Birds must be able to walk, fly, see, feed and preen normally on release and have sufficient fitness for sustained activity.
  • A bird with a damaged bill which has not fully mended is not suitable for release. 
  • Birds must have adequate plumage with normal waterproofing/weatherproofing, and must be acclimatised to outside environmental conditions at the time of release.
  • Birds must display appropriate behaviour, interacting with others of their own species as normal and showing appropriate wariness of humans (neither imprinted nor habituated).
  • Birds must be of an appropriate weight for the age, sex, and time of year for the species. 
  • Detailed care records noting the weight, feeding/food intake, fitness and behaviour of the bird are extremely helpful for assessment of release suitability.
  • (P19.1.w10, P24.233.w11, P24.335.w21, B156.15.w15, B203, D27)

Selecting a release site:

  • Release adults back into the site the individual came from if known, or the nearest safe location. (D27)
  • The release site must provide habitat meeting the nutritional, biological and behavioural needs of the bird being released and must be in the known distribution of the species. (P24.233.w11)
  • Release into appropriate rural woodland/fields with hedge habitat. (B151, V.w26)
  • Avoid releasing into areas where the shooting of game birds is known to take place. (B151)

Timing of release:

  • These diurnal birds should be released early in the morning so they have the whole day to find food.
  • Release during a period of fine weather if possible.
  • Avoiding releasing in the shooting season where practical. (B203)

Type of release:

Hard release:

  • Hard release is generally suitable for adults.

Soft release:

  • Soft release with provision of food following release may be more appropriate for hand-reared birds.(V.w5)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Soft release is particularly important for hand reared animals, particularly of species which need to learn about their surroundings (e.g. food sources) and/or learn survival skills such as hunting.
  • Soft release is also suitable for animals which have been in care for prolonged periods.
  • Soft release may compensate for difficulties of newly released animals finding food and shelter, particularly in a new environment and/or at a time of reduced physical fitness/stamina.
  • Hard release is most appropriate for animals which have been held in captivity for only a short time, for adult animals and for animals being released back into their own territory.
  • The individual animal must, at the the time of release, be healthy, have a reasonable level of fitness and be able to fend for itself in the wild.
  • Diurnal species should be released in the morning, giving them a full day to explore and look for food and shelter before nightfall.
  • Nocturnal species should be released at night.
  • Release should preferably take place during a period of fine weather.
  • Preferably have all birds ringed before release - contact the British Trust for Ornithology for details of local licensed bird ringers.(B156.15.w15, P19.1.w12)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Hard release is least appropriate for juveniles which have been hand reared, particularly species for which learning about their environment and/or social skills are important.
  • Hard release may also be inappropriate for adults which have been maintained in captivity for prolonged periods and/or are being released at a site distant from their original location.
  • There is always a risk of game birds being shot following release.
  • Released animals may be at risk of contracting disease if there is an ongoing disease problem in the wild population at the time of release.
  • The wild population may be at risk from novel pathogens (disease agents) carried by a rehabilitated animal. These pathogens may pose the greatest threat to free-ranging populations if the animal is to be released at a site distant from its original location therefore increasing the likelihood of spread of disease. It is important to remember that the casualty wild animal may have acquired disease from domestic animals, other wildlife casualties or humans whilst in captivity. 
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Knowledge of the natural history of the species concerned is required for correct decision making regarding a suitable release site.
Cost/ Availability
  • Soft release may involve a considerable time investment.
  • Soft release may be expensive in terms of construction of appropriate temporary accommodation at the release site.
  • Costs of appropriate health screening.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • The potential risks to the individual being released and to the wild population into which it is being released (also to domestic animals) must be considered before release is undertaken.
  • The potential risk to humans and pets from habituated/tame individuals must be considered.
  • An offence may be committed under Section 1 of the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 if a released rehabilitated animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). 
    • This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. 

    (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)

  • (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • The following species are listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and their release without a licence is therefore prohibited under Section 14 of that Act:
    • Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus - Western capercaillie)
    • Chukar partridge Alectoris chukar
    • Rock partridge Alectoris graeca
    • Bobwhite quail Colinus virginianus
    • Golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus - Golden pheasant (Link))
    • Lady Amherst's pheasant Chrysolophus amherstiae
    • Reeve's pheasant Syrmaticus reevesi
    • Silver pheasant Lophura nycthemera

    Release of any non-native species is also prohibited. (J35.147.w1, D31, W5.w1.Jan01)

  • Release of any non-native species is also prohibited. (J35.147.w1, D31, W5.w1.Jan01)
  • In Britain bird ringing must be undertaken by someone with a British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing licence. (B118.20.w20, P19.1.w12)
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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