||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: Gavia
arctica - Arctic loon, Gavia
immer - Common loon, Gavia
stellata - Red-throated loon, Podiceps
auritus - Horned grebe, Podiceps
cristatus - Great crested grebe, Podiceps
grisegena - Red-necked grebe, Podiceps
nigricollis - Black-necked grebe, Tachybaptus
ruficollis - Little grebe.
These species are from the family Podicipedidae,
- These birds have long sharply pointed bills and will stab at the face, particularly
at the eyes. The use of protective eye wear (e.g. safety
goggles) is recommended when catching and handling these birds.
- Grebes and divers have legs set far back on their bodies and are not very mobile on
land. It is important that this lack of mobility is not mistakenly presumed to be
due to limb injury.
Catching and Holding:
- Catching on water is difficult as these birds dive and surface at a distance.
- Catching in clean shallow water may be possible using a net if it is possible to see and
anticipate their movements.
- Catching on land is simple as these birds have legs set far back on their bodies and are
not very mobile on land.
- Once in a net, the bill should be grasped through the net, then the body and wings are
- For catching on land if a net is not available a cloth such as a towel may be thrown
over the bird; the head/bill is then grasped through the towel and the body and wings
Restraint for examination and treatment:
- Hold with the wings kept against the body.
- The bill should be controlled at all times by holding the bill or the
back of the head.
- Two people may be required, one to hold the bird, paying particular attention to
restraint of the head/bill while the second person performs the clinical examination.
- The wings and legs should be released to the examiner one at a time to permit
- Subdued lighting should be used if possible to calm the bird and facilitate handling.
- Covering the bird's head with a lightweight cloth may help to keep the bird calm during
- The end of the bill may be covered e.g. with a cork, to prevent stabbing.
- Any item placed on the bill to protect the handler against stabbing must be removed
before the bird is left unattended.
- There is a risk of regurgitation and inhalation in a bird with its bill held closed.
- Prolonged examination and treatment may be best performed under general anaesthesia.
General Anaesthesia (Generic
- 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
- 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.
|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 listed
under Schedule 1 (including Gavia
arctica - Arctic loon (Black-throated diver), Gavia
immer - Common loon (, Gavia
immer - Common loon (Great northern diver), Gavia
stellata - Red-throated loon (Red-throated diver), Podiceps
auritus - Horned grebe (Slavonic grebe), Podiceps
nigricollis - Black-necked grebe); however an exception is made in the case
of "taking" a disabled individual for care, rehabilitation and release. (W5.Jan01,
- See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.