TECHNIQUE

Feeding of Casualty Seabirds (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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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: Alle alle - Dovekie (Little auk), Alca torda - Razorbill, Cepphus grylle - Black guillemot, Fratercula arctica - Atlantic puffin, Fulmarus glacialis - Northern fulmar, Hydrobates pelagicus - European storm-petrel , Morus bassanus - Northern gannet, Oceanodroma leucorhoa - Leach's storm-petrel, Phalacrocorax carbo - Great cormorant, Phalacocorax aristotelis - European Shag, Puffinus griseus - Sooty shearwater, Puffinus puffinus - Manx shearwater, Uria aalge - Common murre (Common guillemot).

These species are from the families Laridae, Phalacrocoracidae, Procellariidae, Sulidae.

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).
    • 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 (Hill’s Pet Nutrition Ltd) and rehydration (electrolyte) solution.(P24.355.w14)
  • See: Gavage / Tubing of Birds

Short term Maintenance Diet:

Food presentation:

  • Fresh fish or freshly-thawed frozen fish should be offered ad libitum.
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Feeding may be triggered by tossing fish into a tray /bowl of shallow water. (B197.15.w15)
  • For birds with access to a pool, feeding has been encouraged spacing fish along a pool edge with their heads protruding over the water.(J23.17.w1)
  • The presence of other birds may encourage feeding in individuals of communal/colony species.(B197.15.w15)

Assisted Feeding:

  • This may be required initially for birds which will not take fish.
  • Assisted feeding (force feeding, particularly of larger species, should only be carried out by experienced personnel).
  • Give small quantities at each feed.
  • Maximum quantity per day 30% body weight divided in up to four feeds (B197.15.w15); two to three feeds. (P24.355.w14)
  • Feed in a quiet dimly lit area and leave immediately after feeding is completed.
  • For larger birds Morus bassanus - Northern gannet, Phalacrocorax carbo - Great cormorant, Phalacocorax aristotelis - European Shag:
    • Wear thick gloves and a face visor.
    • Kneel on the ground with the bird's body and wings restrained by the holder's legs, being careful not to put excessive pressure on the bird.
    • Keep control of the head at all times.
    • Carefully open the bird's bill and introduce a fish head first into the back of the bird's mouth, over the opening to the trachea and into the back of the throat. This may be easier if the bird's head is held up so that the neck is straight rather than bent.
    • Allow the bill to close and if necessary massage the bird's throat gently to encourage swallowing.
    • Ensure that each fish has been swallowed before the next fish is offered.
    • LEAVE ALONE for 1-2 hours after force feeding to reduce the risk of regurgitation.
    • Preferably have the same person feeding a given bird each day.
    • May then progress to taking fish from the hand, thrown fish or fish left in a bowl.
  • For smaller birds (Alca torda - Razorbill, Cepphus grylle - Black guillemot, Fratercula arctica - Atlantic puffin, Puffinus griseus - Sooty shearwater, Puffinus puffinus - Manx shearwater, Uria aalge - Common murre (Common guillemot).):
    • One person holds the bird.
    • A second person carefully opens the bird's bill and introduces a fish head first into the back of the bird's mouth, over the opening to the trachea and into the back of the throat. This may be easier if the bird's head is held up so that the neck is straight rather than bent.
    • Allow the bill to close and massage the bird's throat gently to encourage swallowing.
    • Ensure that each fish has been swallowed before the next fish is offered.
    • LEAVE ALONE for 1-2 hours after force feeding to reduce the risk of regurgitation.
    • Preferably have the same person feeding a given bird each day.
    • May then progress to taking fish from the hand, thrown fish or fish left in a bowl.
  • (B10.23.w27, B118.18.w18, B169.43.w43, B225, P24.327.w26, D24, V.w5, V.w26)
  • Following assisted feeding birds may learn to associate dead fish with food and take food thrown or left in a bowl of water. (B169.43.w43)

Suggested diet:

  • Whole fresh fish.
  • Match the size of the fish to the size of the bird.
  • Offer smaller rather than larger fish.
  • Reduce the size of the fish for weak birds, e.g. use whitebait.
  • (B197.15.w15, B225, D24)
  • Gannet ( Morus bassanus - Northern gannet,)  Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo - Great cormorant,) - Great cormorant,), Shag (Phalacocorax aristotelis - European Shag),:
    • Sprats, whiting, small herring. (B225, D24)
    • Phalacrocorax carbo - Great cormorant:  - Great cormorant:  small fish such as sprats and whitebait preferred, plus occasional larger fish e.g. trout. Supplement with thiamine (Fisheater tablets, Mazuri Zoo Foods, International Zoo Veterinary Group). (B169.43.w43)
  • Alca torda - Razorbill, Cepphus grylle - Black guillemot, Puffin ( Fratercula arctica - Atlantic puffin) , Puffinus griseus - Sooty shearwater, Puffinus puffinus - Manx shearwater, Guillemot (Uria aalge - Common murre)
    • Sprats, whitebait. (D24)
  • Guillemots (Uria aalge - Common murre)
    • Have been maintained long-term on a diet of sprats Clupea spp., approximately 12cm long, provided in shallow dishes containing sea water and eating about 20 fish per day per bird. (J23.15.w2)
    • Have been maintained long-term on Osmerus mordax - smelt. Feeding was encouraged initially by spacing fish along a pool edge with their heads protruding over the water.(J23.17.w1)
  • Alca torda - Razorbill
    • Have been maintained long-term on a diet of sprats Clupea spp., approximately 12cm long, provided in shallow dishes containing sea water and eating about 15 fish per day per bird. (J23.15.w2)
  • NOTE: While smelt can be used for feeding alcids, addition of herring is recommended for more balanced nutrition (essential fatty acids and vitamins) and better breeding. (J23.33.w1)

Supplements:

  • Fisheater tablets should be used to supplement the diet with thiamine, particularly when frozen fish are fed (Mazuri Zoo Foods, International Zoo Veterinary Group). (B169.43.w43, J23.17.w1)
  • Salt should be given either by feeding in salt water or by using salt tablets, particularly in the last two weeks of rehabilitation.
    • Salt supplementation is particularly important if pelagic species are kept off salt water for more than 10 days. (P24.355.w14)

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
  • Initial assisted feeding with whole fish or even gavage with an appropriate mixture may, by placing food in the digestive tract, encourage the start of self-feeding. (B10.23.w27)
  • Weigh birds and use weight gain to decide on feeding strategy. (P24.355.w14)
  • Continue gavage of weak or emaciated birds until there is a consistent weight gain over several days. (B197.15.w15)
  • 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.
  • Tubing diets must be made up daily, kept refrigerated and warmed before use.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Fish Eater Tablets: Special Diets Services, POBox 705, Witham, Essex, England, CM8 3AD
  • Aquavit tablets, 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 for assisted feeding (force feeding) and experienced handlers are essential for assisted feeding of the larger species.
Cost/ Availability
  • Feeding birds of these species for more than a few days 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.
  • It is important to be aware of the risks of physical injury to personnel when force feeding these birds, particularly the larger species.
Author Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5
Referee Becki Lawson (V.w26); Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6)
References

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