TECHNIQUE

Catching and Handling of Grebes & Divers (Loons) (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: 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, Gaviidae.

  • 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 controlled.
  • 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 controlled.

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 examination.
  • 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 examination.
  • 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.

(B64.13.w3, B118.18.w18, B123, B151, 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 (?)
  • Catching these birds on water in which they can dive may be a frustrating and impossible task.
  • 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
  • These birds 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. 
  • Handling in subdued light often quietens diurnal birds.(B118.5.w5, B123)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • 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. goggles) is recommended when catching and handling these birds.
  • 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.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Suitable net.
  • Towel or similar cloth.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Experience is helpful for catching these birds.
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 are widely available.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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