TECHNIQUE

Hand-rearing 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 Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife 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.

These precocial species may be reared using standard avicultural techniques suitable for galliform birds.

  • Care should be taken to avoid imprinting the birds on inappropriate species including humans.
  • Wild birds intended for release should be kept as wild as possible and care taken not to let them become accustomed to dogs or other domestic animals.

Initial Care: 

General bird information:

  • On arrival any young bird should be weighed, warmed, and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration.
  • The age should be determined if possible.
  • See: Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information.

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General precocial bird information

  • Young chicks have a poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns.
  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.(V.w5)
  • A thermometer should be used, within the brooder box, to indicate the temperature at which the chicks are being maintained.
  • Provide heat to a maximum of 95F initially directly under a heat lamp, with a temperature range such that the chicks can chose the position at which the temperature is comfortable. Ensure the minimum temperature is not low enough to allow the chicks to get chilled.
  • Reduce the temperature gradually as the chicks grow so that by the time they are fully fledged no heat is required.
  • Make an appropriately-sized bowl of drinking water available at all times.
  • (B118.5.w5, V.w5)

Gamebird specific information:

  • Brooder box with a wire netting cover to prevent chicks jumping/flying out.
  • Non-slip substrate may be provided in the form of:
    • kitchen paper (for very young chicks);
    • cotton/linen tea towels over newspaper;
    • corrugated paper/cardboard;
    • sand.
  • Newspaper may be used as a substrate on its own but is not a good non-slip surface.
  • Although these chicks are precocial and down-covered at hatching, they require supplementary heating initially.
    • A heat lamp should be placed over one end of the box, allowing the chicks to chose their preferred temperature.
    • Monitor temperature with a thermometer inside the box, but also by the behaviour of the chicks - huddled under the lamp if too cold, away from the lamp, wings spread and panting if too hot.
    • Ensure that the cooler end of box is not sufficiently cold to allow chicks to become chilled.
  • In an emergency heating may be provided by placing one end of the box against a standard radiator.
  • Provide access to a piece of turf for scratching and to grit from an early age.
  • Ensure chicks are not able get into any water bowl provided and get wet and chilled.

Food:

A variety of feeds have been described for rearing game birds:

  • Chick starter, turkey crumbs or game bird starter diet, plus water, wholemeal bread crumbs, hard boiled egg yolk (preferably pressed through a sieve into worm shapes, or chopped) initially.
  • Insectivorous food should be added particularly for the smaller species.
  • Live food such as mini-mealworms and waxworms should be available particularly for the smaller species.
  • Green food such as chopped dandelion, dark green lettuce and chickweed should be provided.
  • Budgie seed/millet may be added for older chicks.
  • Suitable-sized mixed grit should be available to the chicks from an early age.
  • For grouse (Tetrao tetrix - Black grouse) bundles of plants tied together should be provided, so that the chicks can peck bits of the plants.
  • Water should be provided in a drinker of a design such that the chicks cannot climb in and get themselves wet or drown. If a bowl is used, pebbles should be placed in it so that the chicks are able to rest on them and reduce the depth of water in which they stand and the risk of drowning.

Feeding Frequency:

Gamebird specific information:

  • Provide food ad libitum.
  • Encourage feeding several times daily initially until seen to be self feeding well and gaining weight satisfactorily.

Feeding Technique: 

  • Self feeding, but may need to be encouraged initially:
    • e.g. by dropping bits of food onto a plain contrasting surface.
    • May need live food such as waxworms and mini-mealworms to encourage pecking until the artificial diet is recognised as food.
    • Live food should be placed on a bowl of chick crumbs to encourage the chick(s) to start feeding on the crumbs not just the live food.
    • Feeding may be stimulated by sprinkling a few crumbs on the backs of the chicks, where they will groom it off.

Quantities:

  • Provide food ad libitum, in a shallow bowl, with water always available in a suitable container.

Toileting: 

  • Not required.

Weighing: 

General bird information:

  • Regular weighing provides a good indication of growth, however a balance must be chosen between the frequency of weighing for accurate monitoring of progress and the stress which may be caused by repeated handling.
  • Individuals in a brood or being reared in a group must be individually identifiable in order to allow the progress of each chick to be monitored.
    • Temporary identification may be made possible using small colour marks applied to the feathers. An appropriate non-toxic material such as coloured correction fluid (e.g. Tippex) or nail varnish may be used for this purpose.
    • Alternatively, for larger chicks, lightweight leg rings made of flat plastic may be used. These are available in a wide variety of colours. Rings must be of an appropriate size and changed as the bird grows.
  • (B150.w2, V.w5, V.w26)

Weaning:

  • Fledge at approximately 5 weeks old.
  • Wean onto mixed grain: millet-type seed for smaller species, dove-and-pheasant mix or similar for e.g. pheasants.
  • Ensure that locally-available natural foods are fed during this period so that they will be recognised as food when the birds are released.
  • For more information on appropriate adult diets see: Feeding of Casualty Game Birds
  • Ensure grit is available.
  • Ensure water is available.
  • Move into outside runs once the chicks no longer require extra heating.
    • May be in outside runs during daytime initially, back into heated brooders at night.
    • Runs should have a sheltered area providing protection against wind and rain.
    • Mesh size should be small enough to prevent birds sticking their heads out.
    • Runs are preferably placed on short grass to allow the chicks to scratch and search for food.
    • The use of ground which was not used by adults or juveniles in the previous year may be beneficial as this reduces the risk that chicks will rapidly acquire large parasite burdens.
    • Runs must be moved regularly before the ground under the run becomes poached.
    • Bottom of run may be covered with e.g. one-inch mesh to keep out vermin such as rats.
    • Runs used for juveniles which are not yet fully feathered and fully weatherproof must be completely covered during heavy rain and at night.

Release:

Gamebird specific information:

  • Maintain in aviaries for 1-2 weeks prior to release to ensure that the birds are weatherproof.
  • Release only when fully fledged.
  • Avoid releasing in the shooting season if possible or into an area where shooting is known to take place.
  • See: Release of Casualty Game Birds.

(B13.45.w22, B118.5.w5, B151, B186.8.w8, B199, B203, B204, V.w5)

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand-rearing unless they are definitely orphaned or abandoned, injured/visibly unwell, or in immediate danger.
Notes
  • Able to fly to some extent from a relatively early age; tops of boxes and runs should always be covered with wire.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Juvenile birds of these species, once settled for the night, will not move even in the event of a downpour; they therefore must be maintained in runs which can be completely covered at night until they are fully feathered and "weatherproof".(V.w5)
  • Risk of self-inflicted injury such as scalping or even a broken neck from panicked vertical flight into a solid aviary roof (including wire netting/weldmesh).(V.w5)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Brooder boxes, runs and aviaries may be bought from avicultural suppliers or handmade.
  • Chick crumbs and grain are available from good pet stores, agricultural merchants or by ordering from specialist feed companies.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Chicks of the species most likely to be encountered are not generally difficult to rear.
  • Some expertise is required to construct suitable runs and aviaries.
Cost/ Availability
  • Cost of constructing suitable runs and aviaries may be considerable.
  • Food costs are moderate.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Hand- rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release.
  • Consider whether hand- rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand- rearing.
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. 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)
  • Under Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 the release of individuals of any species listed in Schedule 9 of that Act or any other species which is not ordinarily resident in the UK is prohibited without a licence. Galliform species listed in Schedule 9 include: Chukar partridge Alectoris chukar, Rock partridge Alectoris graeca, Bobwhite quail Colinus virginianus, Chrysolophus pictus - Golden pheasant, Lady Amherst's pheasant Chrysolophus amherstiae, Reeve's pheasant Syrmaticus reevesi, Silver pheasant Lophura nycthemera.
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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