TECHNIQUE

Catching and Handling of Birds of Prey (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 Handling and Transport 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: Accipiter gentilis - Northern goshawk, Accipiter nisus - Eurasian sparrowhawk, Aquila chrysaetos - Golden eagle, Buteo buteo - Common buzzard, Buteo lagopus - Rough-legged buzzard, Circus aeruginosus - Western marsh harrier, Circus cyaneus - Northern harrier, Circus pygargus - Montagu's harrier, Haliaeetus albicilla - White-tailed eagle, Milvus milvus - Red kite, Pernis apivorus - European honey buzzard, Pandion haliaetus - Osprey, Falco columbarius - Merlin, Falco peregrinus - Peregrine falcon, Falco subbuteo - Hobby, Falco tinnunculus - Common kestrel, Athene noctua - Little owl, Strix aluco - Tawny owl, Asio otus - Long-eared owl, Asio flammeus - Short-eared owl, Nyctea scandiaca - Snowy owl, Tyto alba - Barn owl.

These species are from the families Accipitridae, Falconidae, Strigidae, Tytonidae.

  • When catching and handling birds of prey it is important to remember that the talons are the most dangerous part of the bird. Some species (particularly fish-eating eagles, hawks and owls) also bite and the fish-eating eagles also strike with their wings.
  • Birds of prey may bite and should always be held well away from anyone's face, hands or arms.
  • Care must be taken that the bird does not injure itself with its talons, particularly piercing one foot with the talons of the other foot; this may lead to bumblefoot infection which would jeopardise successful release following rehabilitation.
  • Some species may lie down and "play dead" when cornered, but rouse very rapidly and attempt to escape or strike out when disturbed.
  • Damage to or loss of feathers must be avoided as a bird of prey with damaged feathers may not be released until they have been replaced (i.e. until the next moult or following feather repair by imping (a technique used by falconers to repair flight feathers by attaching a replacement feather shaft (usually a moulted feather) into the feather base)). (B156.16.w16)

Catching and initial restraint:

  • May be caught using a large net with a padded rim and small mesh. (B151, D18)
  • Birds of prey sitting on the ground may be caught by first throwing a towel or similar lightweight cloth over the bird. (B123, B156.15.w15, B156.16.w16, D24, V.w5)
  • Birds in a box may be caught by placing a towel over the bird as the box is opened.
  • Once in a towel or net, the bird is grasped across the shoulders, with the thumbs of the handler facing dorsally/upwards; the wings are restrained in this manner so they cannot flap.
  • The legs should be controlled as soon as possible.
  • The most appropriate method of restraint will vary depending on the size of the bird and the size of the handler’s hands.

  • For small birds of prey: 

    • One hand may grasp the bird around the shoulders, holding the wings to the body. The other hand may then be taken down the back of the bird, reaching round to hold both legs between the fingers of one hand, with at least one finger between the two legs.

  • For medium sized birds (may also be used for small birds): 

    • Both hands grasp around the shoulders from behind with the thumbs placed dorsally (along/across the back). The fingers are then repositioned so that the legs are held between the third and fourth or fourth and fifth fingers of each hand so that the legs are pointing backwards.

    • For larger/broader-bodied birds or if the handler has small hands, the hands may need to be slid down the wings/body through the towel, thumbs on the dorsal surface (back) of the bird, fingers under the bird, and grasping the legs so that they are restrained are held between the third and fourth or fourth and fifth fingers of each hand and pointing backwards.

  • For very large species:

    • Two people may be required for safe restraint, one person controlling the wings held to the body, the other person grasping the legs.

    • B123, V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)

  • If the bird is lying "playing dead", it may be useful to start by placing a lightweight piece of material over the head to prevent the bird seeing the approach of the handler; be aware the bird may be more reactive than is apparent. (D24)
  • If a bird is in a defensive posture on its back, a piece of cloth such as a towel may be dangled such that the bird grasps this; the legs may then be grasped by the handler while the talons are safely engaged on the cloth.(B123)
  • May be wrapped in a towel or coat to reduce the risk of further injury during transport.(B118.16.w16)

Restraint for examination and treatment:

  • Requires one person to hold the bird, a second person to conduct the examination. (B118.16.w16)
  • Subdued lighting should be used if possible to calm the bird and facilitate handling.(B118.16.w16, B156.16.w16)
  • Most individuals will be quieter if their head is kept covered; this is particularly useful for nervous species. (B118.16.w16)
  • A towel may be dropped over the bird, which is then approached from above and behind and held as described above; the towel assists in keeping the wings restrained.
  • Covering the head is useful for all species and particularly for nervous species such as sparrowhawks, goshawks and ospreys.
    • A falconry hood may be used if one of the correct size is available;
    • Alternatively the head may be covered with a cloth.
    • Keep the head covered except when the head is being examined.
    • Occasionally a bird will be more upset if a hood is used.
  • Press the bird gently in ventral recumbency (i.e. abdomen downwards) into a padded surface such as a cushion, Vetbed or sacking.
  • May also be held upright or in lateral recumbency.
  • One wing or one leg at a time may be released by the handler for examination.
  • Prolonged examination and treatment may be best performed under general anaesthesia.

(B11.2.w16, B118.16.w16, B123, B151, B156.15.w15, B156.16.w16, D18, D24, D29, V.w5)

General Anaesthesia (Generic "Bird" Information)

  • A variety of techniques have been used for induction and maintenance of general anaesthesia in birds including injectable anaesthetics such as ketamine, propofol, saffan, medetomidine, etc and gaseous anaesthetics such as halothane and isoflurane. Further information regarding the use of different anaesthetic agents is available as described for use in waterfowl.  See:
  • Isoflurane is currently considered to be the anaesthetic agent of choice for induction and maintenance of general anaesthesia in birds in most circumstances and species.
    • Induction of general anaesthesia with a gaseous agent can be achieved using a face mask or induction chamber.
    • Use of an anaesthetic chamber for induction may be preferable with small birds because it avoids the stress involved with manual restraint during mask induction.
    • The walls of the anaesthetic chamber should preferably be made of a transparent or translucent material that facilitates easy monitoring of the patient during induction and transfer to an anaesthetic mask or intubation at the appropriate depth of general anaesthesia.
    • In the majority of cases, intubation of birds is recommended during the maintenance of general anaesthesia. However, for very small birds and / or very short procedures intubation may not be appropriate. Clinical judgement should be used to determine whether intubation is appropriate for the size of species, procedure and likely duration of general anaesthesia required.
    • The majority of birds have simple solid cartilaginous rings within the trachea. As a consequence, the use of cuffed endotracheal tubes is not generally recommended because of the potential risk of the cuff exerting local pressure which could damage the trachea and lead to secondary tissue necrosis. The use of a non-cuffed endotracheal tubes is generally recommended. However in specific circumstances where the risks of gastrointestinal contents reflux (e.g. flushing of the gizzard to remove particulate lead material in waterfowl) may be particularly high, partial inflation of a cuffed tube may be practised with great care.
  • The need for fluid therapy by an appropriate route should be considered during general anaesthesia, particularly in birds which may be dehydrated. Clinical judgement, based on general principles, must be used regarding the route, volume and type of fluids required.
  • Consideration should be given to prevent hypothermia. The ambient temperature of the room should be comfortably warm (20oC - 25oC) and external heat sources may be appropriate (e.g. heat mats etc.), particularly for longer anaesthetics and collapsed animals. Care must be taken not to overheat the animal or cause burns.
  • There must be good ventilation in any room used for gaseous anaesthesia. In normal circumstances an anaesthetic gas scavenging system should be in place, particularly when masks and chambers are used. Exposure to anaesthetic gases can pose a risk to the operating staff, either through toxic effects of the gas or inadvertent self-anaesthesia of the veterinary and nursing staff.
  • Further information, with particular reference to waterfowl, and including emergency procedures, is available in: Treatment and Care - Anaesthesia and Chemical Restraint.

(B11, B13.39.w16, B14, B197, V.w5, V.w6 V.w26)

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Catch only if necessary.
  • Handling of wild animals should be minimised.
  • Consider design of accommodation and timing of treatments to minimise requirements for capture and handling.
  • Excessive chasing should be avoided as this is very stressful to the bird.(B118.5.w5)
  • Consider whether physical or chemical restraint is more appropriate.
Notes
  • Gloves provide useful protection against injury from talons; however gloves decrease sensitivity and dexterity and their use is not always appropriate, particularly for the smaller species.
  • Ensure wings are held so that they cannot flap.(B118.16.w16)
  • A net with a padded rim is recommended to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Nets should be deep with soft small mesh.
  • Handling in subdued light often quietens diurnal birds.(B118.5.w5, B123)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • When catching and handling birds of prey it is important to remember that the talons are the most dangerous part of the bird. Some species (particularly fish-eating eagles, hawks and owls) also bite and the fish-eating eagles also strike with their wings.
  • Birds of prey may bite and should always be held well away from away from anyone's face, hands or arms.
  • Some species may lie down and "play dead" when cornered, but rouse very rapidly and attempt to escape or strike out when disturbed. (B118.16.w16)
  • Care must be taken that the bird does not injure itself with its talons, particularly piercing one foot with the talons of the other foot; this may lead to bumblefoot infection which would jeopardise successful release following rehabilitation. (See: Bumblefoot (with special reference to Waterfowl)).
  • Damage to or loss of feathers must be avoided as a bird of prey with damaged feathers may not be released until they have been replaced (i.e. until the next moult or following feather repair by imping (a technique used by falconers to repair flight feathers by attaching a replacement feather shaft (usually a moulted feather) into the feather base)). (B156.16.w16)
  • Female birds should be handled with extra care during and just prior to the egg-laying season: severe internal damage may result from poor/rough handling.
  • Minimise handling, particularly for nervous species such as sparrowhawks.(D24)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Appropriate nets and gloves.
  • Suitable cloths such as towels.
  • Falconry hoods.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Experience is advantageous when handling these birds and is important for the safe handling of larger species.
  • Advice and assistance should be sought by inexperienced handlers.
Cost/ Availability
  • Appropriate nets, gloves and hoods may be available from specialist suppliers, veterinary suppliers or some good pet stores; they may be expensive.
  • Suitable cloths such as towels are widely available.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Risks to human health, both physical and risks of zoonotic illness, must be considered. (Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974)
  • Subject to certain exceptions (e.g. birds listed in Schedule 2, outside their close season), it is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 1 to "take" (i.e. capture) any bird from the wild in the UK and special penalties apply for birds (including most birds of prey) listed under Schedule 1; however an exception is made in the case of "taking" a disabled individual for care, rehabilitation and release.(W5.Jan01, D28, D31)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References B11.2.w16, B118.5.w5, B118.16.w16, B123, B151, B156.15.w15, B156.16.w16, D18, D24, D28, D29, D31, V.w5, W5.Jan01

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