Feeding of Casualty Waterfowl (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: Aix galericulata - Mandarin duck; Anas acuta - Northern pintail, Anas clypeata - Northern shoveler, Anas crecca - Common teal, Anas penelope - Eurasian wigeon, Anas platyrhynchos - Mallard, Anas strepera - Gadwall, Anas querquedula - Garganey, Anser albifrons - Greater white-fronted goose, Anser anser - Greylag goose, Anser brachyrhynchus - Pink-footed goose, Anser erythropus - Lesser white-fronted goose, Anser fabalis - Bean goose, Aythya ferina - Common pochard, Aythya fuligula - Tufted duck, Aythya marila - Greater scaup, Branta bernicla - Brent goose, Branta canadensis - Canada goose, Branta leucopsis - Barnacle goose, Bucephala clangula - Common goldeneye, Clangula hyemalis - Long-tailed duck, Cygnus columbianus - Tundra swan, Cygnus cygnus - Whooper swan, Cygnus olor - Mute swan, Melanitta fusca- White-winged scoter, Melanitta nigra - Black scoter, Mergellus albellus - Smew, Mergus merganser - Common merganser, Mergus serrator - Red-breasted merganser, Oxyura jamaicensis - Ruddy duck, Somateria mollissima - Common eider, Tadorna tadorna - Common shelduck.

These species are from the family Anatidae.

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:

  • Casualty birds are often anorexic when presented and have an immediate requirement for energy.(B156.15.w15)
  • Liquid diets should be administered by crop tube (gavage) in anorectic birds.(V.w26)
  • One convalescent diet described for tube feeding waterfowl, and given at approximate quantities of 60ml twice daily for a mallard, 150ml twice daily for a mute swan is made up as follows:
    • 500ml oral rehydration fluid (Lectade plus, Pfizer Limited).
    • Two tins canine/feline convalescent diet (A/D Diet, Hills Pet Nutrition).
    • 100 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)
  • A simple mixture which may be given by stomach tube is a broth of rehydration solution (e.g. Lectade, Pfizer Limited) and ground cereals, given three or four times daily.(D24)
  • Proprietary products such as Critical Care Formula (Vetark) have been specifically designed as a short term product for anorectic and sick birds. (V.w26)
  • High-energy diets e.g. Complan (HJ Heinz Co Ltd.) or baby foods, mixed as directed on the packet may be useful short term. (B156.15.w15)
  • Give up to 2% of body weight per feed:
    • Assume 1ml of made-up feed equals 1g, therefore maximum 2ml of feed per 100g of bird
    • (B156.15.w15)
  • See: Gavage / Tubing of Birds

Short term Maintenance Diet:

Food should usually be provided ad libitum. Small frequent feeds may be advisable initially to prevent extremely hungry birds from gorging.

Dabbling ducks and Perching ducks:

  • Commercial waterfowl food, mixed grains, in water in a washing up bowl. 
  • Grain/commercial waterfowl food should also be offered dry.
  • Fresh cut non-contaminated grass (particularly for grazers such as geese and wigeon), green lettuce or duckweed (Lemna minor) may encourage feeding.
  • Limited amounts of wholemeal bread may encourage feeding, particularly in waterfowl from public parks.
  • Grit should be made available.
  • (D24, B96, B224)

Sawbills (Mergellus albellus - Smew, Mergus merganser - Common merganser, Mergus serrator - Red-breasted merganser):

Seaducks (Clangula hyemalis - Long-tailed duck, Melanitta fusca- White-winged scoter, Melanitta nigra - Black scoter, Somateria mollissima - Common eider )

  • Chopped fish, chopped mussels.(D24)
  • Whitebait plus seaduck pellets (e.g. Mazuri, Seaduck Pellets, Special Diet Services).(B151)

Further information on feeding waterfowl is available in: Bird Husbandry and Management: Food and Feeding for Birds

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Access to short grass or fresh cut grass is particularly important for grazing waterfowl.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.
  • Thaw frozen fish slowly in a refrigerator before use and discard unused fish after 24 hours.

  • Food such as grain should be provided both in water and in a separate bowl as individuals vary in which they prefer to take. Once a preference becomes clear, this way of presentation may be used alone.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Waterfowl from public parks, which are highly dependent on feeding of bread by the public, may be reluctant to eat other foods.
  • Birds which are extremely hungry may gorge themselves if provided with large quantities of food. Food should be offered "little and often" to such birds.
  • 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)
  • Vionate (E.R. Squibb and Sons Limited) may be bought from pet stores or mail order bird/pet feed suppliers.
  • A/D Hills Science Diet (Hill’s Pet Nutrition Ltd.) from veterinary suppliers
  • Ensure (Abbott Laboratories)
  • Complan (H J Heinz Co Ltd): from supermarkets etc.
  • Lectade, Pfizer Limited: from veterinary suppliers and agricultural feed suppliers.
  • Critical Care Formula:Vetark Animal Health, PO Box 60, Winchester, SO23 9XN
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • No particular expertise is required.
Cost/ Availability
  • The cost of feeding small numbers of waterfowl is not high.
  • Expertise is important if assisted feeding (force feeding) is undertaken.
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

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