Catching and Handling of Game Birds (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: Alectoris rufa - Red-legged partridge, Chrysolophus pictus - Golden pheasant, Coturnix coturnix - Common quail, Lagopus lagopus - Willow ptarmigan, Lagopus mutus - Rock ptarmigan, Perdix perdix - Grey partridge, Phasianus colchicus - Common pheasant, Tetrao tetrix - Black grouse, Tetrao urogallus - Western capercaillie.

These species are from the families Phasianidae.

  • Some of these bird may become highly stressed on handling and may shed large number of feathers. Firm but gentle handling, for as short a time as possible, should be used.
  • Male pheasants may have substantial and sharp tarsal spurs.


  • Even injured birds will try a vertical take off to escape.
  • Large net with an extra-long handle is useful for catching these species.(B151)
    • A padded rim and a deep bag of small) mesh is preferred.
    • Once in the net, restrain the bird through the net with one or both hands around the shoulders, holding the wings to the body. Particular care should be taken to ensure that the bird does not escape from the net during this procedure and it may be an advantage to have a second person present to assist.(V.w5)
    • The legs should then be held with one hand, with one finger between the legs at the hocks, before the net is removed.
  • May be herded towards a "walk-towards" net (about 1 metre wide and several metres long, similar in appearance to a tennis net). (B199)
  • A large towel, coat or similar cloth may be thrown over the bird followed by rapidly, but gently, grabbing the bird through the cloth.
  • May be caught by hand in a confined space.
  • Do not try to catch by grabbing or standing on the tail feathers as these will probably come out.


  • Galliformes can be unpredictable during handling and are prone to sudden explosive movements and a vertical take off. They should be handled in a fully enclosed space whenever possible. Extra care should be taken to avoid collision with solid objects which may result in scalping injuries or even neck fractures.
  • Hold with both hands around the wings and body, holding the leg on either side between the third and fourth finger of each hand.
    • Keep the wings held firmly against the body at all times.
  • Relatively large birds may be carried with one hand holding the legs at the hocks, keeping one finger between the legs, the other arm pinning the body of the bird to the handler's body and controlling the head.
  • Small species should be held gently but firmly in both hands, taking care not to put too much pressure on the rib cage.
  • 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.
  • Sedation with diazepam (10mg/kg, intramuscular or intravenous) has been suggested to reduce stress during handling and facilitate examination. (B151)
  • Prolonged examination and treatment may best be performed with the bird under general anaesthesia.

(B123, B151, B199, 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.
  • These birds may peck and they should always be held well away from anyone's face and eyes. Pecks to the hands and arms are unlikely to cause serious injury but should be avoided wherever possible. 
  • A hand-net with a padded rim is recommended to reduce the risk of injury during capture and handling.
  • Thin opaque material or small mesh net minimises the risk of entanglement.
  • Handling in subdued light often quietens diurnal birds.(B118.5.w5, B123)
  • Keep the wings restrained against the bird's body at all times.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Galliformes can be unpredictable during handling and are prone to sudden explosive movements and a vertical take off. They should be handled in a fully enclosed space whenever possible. Extra care should be taken to avoid collision with solid objects which may result in scalping injuries or even neck fractures.
  • N.B. pheasants may be very strong.
  • Male pheasants may have substantial and sharp tarsal spurs, therefore it is important to control the legs during handling.
  • The capercaillie Tetrao urogallus - Western capercaillie may be aggressive during the breeding season.
  • Never try to catch by grabbing the tail feathers; pheasants may shed large numbers of feathers if these are grabbed.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Appropriate net for catching.
  • Cloths for catching and covering the head.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Catching and handling of these species is not difficult; however experience is advantageous, particularly for the larger species.
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.
  • Towels or other cloths are widely available and inexpensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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