TECHNIQUE

Feeding of Casualty 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 Wildlife Casualty & Convalescent Feeding 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.

Fluids (water):

  • Offer a rehydration (electrolyte) solution such as Lectade (Pfizer Limited) to drink on admission.
  • Water should be freely available at all times unless the casualty is unconscious or severely debilitated and unable to hold its head up.
  • Both water and a rehydration (electrolyte) solution, in separate containers, should be made available initially.
  • (V.w5, V.w26)
  • Gavage with rehydration (electrolyte) solution may be required on admission. (B156.15.w15, D24)

Convalescent Diet:

  • Rehydration fluid should be administered orally for first 24 hours and food should also be offered during this period.
  • Give high-energy convalescent diet if birds is emaciated or does not start to self-feed:
  • Convalescent diet, to be given at 10% body weight per day, by gavage, split into two to four feeds:
    • 50ml oral rehydration fluid (Lectade plus, Pfizer Limited.).
    • Two tins canine/feline convalescent diet (A/D Diet, Hills Pet Nutrition Ltd.).
    • 10 ml human liquid nutrition product (Ensure Plus, Abbot Laboratories).
    • B vitamin/E vitamin supplement (1/2 Aquavit tablet, International Zoological Veterinary Group).
    • Iron supplement (one 200mg ferrous sulphate tablet).
    • (B197.15.w15)
  • Or: mixture of liquidised fish mixed with rehydration (electrolyte) solution.(P24.355.w12, V.w26)
  • Or: 50:50 mixture of A/D (Hills Pet Nutrition Ltd.) and rehydration (electrolyte) solution. (P24.355.w14)
  • Proprietary products such as Critical Care Formula (Vetark Animal Health) have been specifically designed as a short term product for anorectic and sick birds. (V.w26)
  • See: Gavage / Tubing of Birds

Short term Maintenance Diet:

  • Fresh fish such as whole whitebait, sprats or herring cut into thin strips should be offered ad libitum and replaced regularly.
  • Fish should be fed in a dark bowl or tray against which they will stand out. (B197.15.w15)
  • Feeding may be triggered by tossing fish into a tray /bowl of shallow water. (B197.15.w15)
  • Fresh whitebait, sprats or sardines.(B203)
  • Larger grebe will take whitebait from a shallow bowl of water. (B151)
  • Tachybaptus ruficollis - Little grebe may take fish dropped one at a time into water on which they are swimming, diving to take the moving fish.(B151)
  • Divers (loons): thawed frozen fish such as sprats, herring, sand eels.
  • Fish should be supplemented with thiamine (e.g. Fish Eater Tablets, Mazuri Zoo Foods).

Food presentation:

  • Fresh fish such as whole whitebait, sprats or herring cut into thin strips should be offered ad libitum and replaced regularly.
  • Fish should be replaced up to four times daily to ensure that it remains fresh.
  • Fish should be fed in a dark bowl or tray against which they will stand out. (B197.15.w15)
  • Feeding may be triggered by tossing fish into a tray /bowl of shallow water. (B197.15.w15)
  • Injecting the fish with varying amounts of air and placing in water in a washing up bowl may be used to simulate live fish at different levels in the water. (D24)
  • Larger grebe will take whitebait from a shallow bowl of water. (B151)
  • Tachybaptus ruficollis - Little grebe may take fish dropped one at a time into water on which they are swimming, diving to take the moving fish.(B151)
  • Assisted feeding may be required in anorexic birds. (V.w6 , V.w26)

Suggested short term maintenance diets include:

  • Fresh whitebait, sprats or sardines.(B203)
  • Divers (loons): thawed frozen fish such as sprats, herring, sand eels.

Supplementation:

  • Fish should be supplemented with thiamine (e.g. Fish Eater Tablets, Mazuri Zoo Foods).

(B118.18.w18, B151, B197.15.w15, V.w26)

In an emergency:

  • Gutted fish or fish fillets may be used if whole fish is not available. (P24.355.w14)
  • Fish from fish fingers may be used if no other fish is available. (B118.18.w18)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Fresh drinking water should always be available in a container of an appropriate size and type for the species concerned.
  • Fluid replacement therapy other than oral fluids may be required for casualties which are extremely dehydrated on admission or are unable to take in and absorb oral fluids.
    • Fluid therapy should continue until the animal is no longer dehydrated, even if it is self feeding.
  • Feeding of convalescents should take into account their requirement for additional nutrients for healing as well as maintenance requirements.
Notes
  • Fish should be supplemented with thiamine (vitamin B1), particularly when frozen fish is used.
  • The required fluid intake for maintenance should be considered when designing convalescent diets.
  • Energy requirements for maintenance and healing should be calculated and used to determine the quantity of food required for both convalescence and short-term maintenance diets.
  • Convalescent diets should be easily absorbed/digested.
  • Care should be taken not to under or over supplement with vitamins/minerals
  • Diets intended for feeding from a syringe or by stomach tube (gavage) must be of a sufficiently fluid consistency to pass through the syringe nozzle or down the tube without it becoming blocked.
  • Tubing diets must be made up daily, kept refrigerated and warmed before use.
  • The natural diet should be considered when deciding on suitable ingredients, including consideration of taste/smell.
  • Fresh food must be provided daily.
  • Regular cleaning of food and drinking water containers (e.g. daily) is important to reduce the risk of disease.
  • Food and water containers should be sited to minimise the risk of contamination with droppings/faeces/urine. 
  • Thaw frozen fish slowly in a refrigerator before use and discard unused fish after 24 hours.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Do not feed whole fish to weak/hypothermic/debilitated birds as they may be unable to digest them. (P24.355.w14)
  • Do not give too many fish at one time when assisted feeding (force-feeding), particularly to weak birds as they may not be able to digest them.(V.w5)
  • Avoid feeding with only one type of fish for prolonged periods. This is less likely to be a balanced diet nutritionally and may result in rejection of other fish.(B10.23.w27, P24.355.w14)
  • Water bowls should not be left in the accommodation of a casualty which is unconscious or is severely debilitated and unable to hold its head up.
  • Dehydrated and malnourished individuals sometimes drink rehydration fluids but refuse plain water initially; others will drink water but not rehydration fluids. Both should be made available.
  • No diet, however well balanced nutritionally, is useful if the animal does not eat it, for example because it is not recognised as food.
  • Ingestion of food should be monitored, not assumed. This may include weighing food before presentation and weighing waste food after removal, and periodic weighing of the animal.
  • Monitoring of weight/body condition is particularly important for group housed/group fed animals, within which some individuals may take more food and others not get the food they require.
  • Diets suggested on this page are intended for short term use for wildlife casualties; they are not necessarily suitable for long-term use or in individuals which are breeding.
  • Diets suggested on this page are not necessarily suitable for feeding chicks; information on appropriate diets for very young individuals are described in the page on hand-rearing.
  • If naturally-available food items are gathered for feeding to casualties it is important to be aware of the possibility of contamination with chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Oral rehydration (electrolyte) solutions are widely available from veterinary suppliers and chemists. 
  • A basic oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution may be made by dissolving one tablespoon of sugar and one teaspoon of salt in one litre of water. (B203)
  • Lectade, Lectade plus: Pfizer Limited: from veterinary suppliers and agricultural feed suppliers.
  • A/D Hills Science Diet (Hill’s Pet Nutrition Ltd.) from veterinary suppliers
  • (Ensure Plus, Abbot Laboratories).
  • Critical Care Formula (Vetark Animal Health, PO Box 60, Winchester, SO23 9XN)
  • Aquavit tablet, International Zoological Veterinary Group, Keighley, West Yorkshire.
  • Whole fish may be bought from fish markets, bait stores and specialist animal feed suppliers.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Expertise is important if assisted feeding (force feeding) is undertaken.
Cost/ Availability
  • Feeding birds of these species for long periods may become expensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Under the Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000 it is an offence not to provide animals (including captive wild animals) with necessary food and water. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, P19.2.w1)
  • Care should be taken not to let an individual become accustomed to a single food item as this may result in difficulties in feeding the animal if the food item becomes unavailable, and in preparing it for release.
  • Every effort should be made to provide appropriate natural, locally available foods to animals which have been maintained in captivity for prolonged periods before they are released, in order to re-accustom them to a natural diet and reduce the chance of digestive problems following release.(P24.233.w11)
  • The release of animals which, by virtue of an inadequate or inappropriate diet whilst in captivity, are not fit to survive when released may be considered an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act, 1960.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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