Hand-rearing Grebes & Divers (Loons) (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: Gavia arctica - Arctic loon, Gavia immer - Common loon, Gavia stellata - Red-throated loon, Podiceps auritus - Horned grebe, Podiceps cristatus - Great crested grebe, Podiceps grisegena - Red-necked grebe, Podiceps nigricollis - Black-necked grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis - Little grebe.

These species are from the families Podicipedidae, Gaviidae.

  • Diver and grebe chicks are fed by their parents.(B163)
  • Chicks of these species are infrequently presented for hand-rearing. Advice may be sought from specialist rehabilitation centres and aviculturists with experience of keeping these species.

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.
  • Cold, weak chicks may benefit greatly from a short period, for example 30 minutes, left in a dark cardboard box at 30-35C.(P19.1.w4)
  • 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)

Grebe and Diver specific information:

  • Where little information is available for a species the normal approach would be to review the information available on species with similar habits.
    • Diving ducks such as seaducks and stifftails which normally spend most of their time on water are often reared in specially designed brooder boxes giving them constant access to water but also a heated area. See: Rearing of Birds - Artificial Rearing - Waterfowl considerations and the aviculture section in the species page for Long-tailed duck - Clangula hyemalis.


Suggested feeds for rearing include:

  • Starter diet similar to that used for insectivorous birds (mixture of 5 ounces canned dog food, 1 ounce turkey starter, 2 drops vitamin supplement, 1 brewer's yeast tablet), may be used for chicks of fish-eating birds, with small slivers of fish, aquatic and terrestrial insects and crustaceans added within a few days of hatching. (B150.w2)
  • Strips of fish e.g. herring, eel, trout, minnow. (B118.5.w5, B118.18.w18)
  • Whitebait.(B151)
  • Size of pieces should be appropriate for the size of the chick; whole fish may be offered if of an appropriate size.
  • Fish should be supplemented with thiamine, particularly if frozen fish is used. (B150.w2, B151, B118.18.w18)
  • Food similar to that eaten by adults may be offered. (B203) See: Feeding of Casualty Grebes & Divers


  • Tweezers for offering pieces of food.

Feeding Frequency:

  • Where little information is available for a species the normal approach would be to review the information available on species with similar habits.
    • For coots, moorhens and rails which are also precocial species fed by their parents it is recommended that food should be offered at least hourly. (B186.8.w8)

Feeding Technique: 

  • Offer food from tweezers, dangling food in front of chick and moving the food to simulate the normal action of the parent bird.
  • Colouring the tweezers red or green may stimulate the chick to take food.
  • (B118.5.w5, B118.18.w18, B151, B186.8.w8, B203)


General bird information: 

  • Most species of bird eat 10-20% of their body weight per 24 hours.(B150.w2)
  • Carnivorous birds (raptors, fisheaters, shore birds) may take up to 50ml/kg body weight per feed.(J34.9.w1)


  • Not required.


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)



  • General bird information:
    • Move to an aviary for at least two weeks prior to release, to allow exercise, flying/swimming as appropriate, and exposure to the weather.
  • See: Release of Casualty Grebes and Divers
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.
  • Considerable input of time and effort required. 
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Thiamine deficiency may occur if fish, particularly frozen fish, is not supplemented with thiamine.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Fish - widely available e.g. from fishmongers, some pet stores, specialist suppliers.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Time commitment may be considerable initially when hand feeding is required.
Cost/ Availability
  • Cost of fish for one or a small number of bird is moderate.
  • Cost of constructing appropriate pre-release accommodation may be considerable.
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)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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