Catching and Handling of Pigeons & Doves (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 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: Columba livia - Rock pigeon, Columba oenas - Stock pigeon, Columba palumbus - Common wood-pigeon, Streptopelia turtur - European turtle-dove, Streptopelia decaocto - Eurasian collared-dove.

These species are from the families Columbidae.

Some of these birds, particularly the wood pigeon (Columba palumbas - Common wood-pigeon) may become highly stressed on handling and can shed large quantities of feathers. Firm but gentle handling, for as short a time as possible, should be used.

Catching and Handling:

  • May be caught by hand-held net or by hand.
  • If a net is used it is preferable to use a net with a padded rim and a bag of thin opaque cloth or small mesh to reduce the risk of entanglement.
  • When catching by hand, grasp the bird from above, bringing both hands around the body and keeping the wings closed against the body.
  • Hold with the feet side by side between the first and second fingers (palm of the hand facing upwards) and the thumb of the same hand over the top of the tail and the ends of the primary flight feathers, thereby holding the wings in a normal closed position; the other hand then supports the breast.
  • Hold the bird facing towards the handler, this reduces escape attempts if the grip of the hand relaxes slightly.
  • For woodpigeons which are strong birds, the recommended holding position is with both hands around the body and wings. This may also be used for other species. 

Restraint for examination and treatment:

  • Hold with the feet side by side between the first and second fingers (palm of the hand facing upwards) and the thumb of the same hand over the top of the tail and the ends of the primary flight feathers, thereby holding the wings in a normal closed position.
  • The other hand is therefore free to support the breast or to extend each wing in turn for examination.
  • For wood pigeons holding with both hands around the body, a second person conduction the examination, is preferable.

For wood pigeons, which are strong and highly stressed birds, two people may be required; one person holds the bird with both hands around the body whilst the other performs the clinical examination.

  • Subdued lighting may be used if possible to calm the bird.
  • Covering the bird's head with a lightweight cloth may help to calm the bird.
  • Prolonged examination and treatment may best be performed with the bird under general anaesthesia.

(B11.2.w16, B11.24.w23, B123, B151, B156.14.w14, B197.14.w14, V.w26)

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.
  • A hand-net with a padded rim is recommended to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Thin opaque material or small mesh net minimises the risk of entanglement.
  • These birds rarely try to peck or scratch, but should still be held well away from anyone's eyes and face.
  • Handling in subdued light often quietens diurnal birds.(B118.5.w5, B123)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Risk of injury to the bird by the rim of the net during catching.
  • It may not be possible to catch birds with considerable leg damage but intact wings unless they are in a confined space. 
  • Columba palumbas - Common wood-pigeon are very easily stressed and handling may result in considerable shedding of feathers.(V.w26)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Suitable net, preferably with padded rim and of light opaque material or small-gauge mesh.
  • Cloths for catching and covering the head.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • These birds are easy to handle.
Cost/ Availability
  • Appropriate nets may be available from specialist suppliers, veterinary suppliers or some good pet stores; they may be expensive.
  • Nets may also be constructed from readily-available materials.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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