Catching and Handling of Gulls & Terns (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: Childonais niger - Black tern, Larus marinus - Great black-backed gull, Larus argentatus - Herring gull, Larus canus - Mew gull, Larus fuscus - Lesser black-backed gull, Larus ridibundus - Common black-headed gull, Larus melanocephalus - Mediterranean gull, Larus minutus - Little gull, Rissa tridactyla - Black-legged kittiwake, Stercorarius parasiticus - Parasitic jaeger, Stercorarius pomarinus - Pomarine jaeger, Sterna albifrons - Little tern, Sterna bengalensis - Lesser crested-tern, Sterna dougallii - Roseate tern, Sterna hirundo - Common tern, Sterna paradisaea - Arctic tern, Sterna sandvicensis - Sandwich tern, Catharacta skua - Great skua.

These species are from the family Laridae.

  • The bills of these species are strong and sharp. The gulls in particular can give a crushing and twisting bite with the bill.
  • These birds will frequently peck at the eyes, also at the fingers and arms of handlers.
  • It is important to keep these birds away from your face and from the face of anyone else nearby.
  • Take particular care when handling the larger gull species such as Larus marinus - Great black-backed gull.

Catching and Holding:

  • Catching may require the use of a large net with a long handle even for casualty birds which are unable to fly since they are frequently still fast-moving and agile.
    • A net with a padded rim is preferred.
    • The bag of the net should be deep and of thin opaque material or small mesh to minimise the risk of entanglement.
  • Dropping a suitable-sized cloth such as a towel over the bird may be useful for hand catching of weak or injured gulls and terns.
  • Once under a net or cloth, the bird is grasped around the shoulders with the thumbs of the handler pointing forwards/upwards/dorsally, restraining the wings. 
  • Particular attention must be paid to controlling the head and bill. 

Restraint for examination and treatment:

  • 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.
  • Prolonged examination and treatment may be best performed under general anaesthesia.

(B123, B151, V.w5, 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.
  • These birds tend to struggle when handled.
  • Handling in subdued light often quietens diurnal birds.(B118.5.w5, B123)
  • It is important to control the head to prevent pecking at or grabbing of the holder.
  • Keep these birds away from your face and from the face of anybody else nearby.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Catching, even with a net, may not be possible if the bird can still fly.
  • The bills of these species are strong and sharp.
  • These birds will often peck at the eyes, also at fingers and arms of handlers.
  • Gulls can give a crushing and twisting bite with the bill.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Suitable net for catching.
  • Towel or similar cloth for dropping over birds.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Experience is an advantage for catching and handling these birds safely, 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.
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 Childonais niger - Black tern, Larus melanocephalus - Mediterranean gull, Larus minutus - Little gull, Sterna albifrons - Little tern, Sterna dougallii - Roseate tern); however an exception is made in the case of "taking" a disabled individual for care, rehabilitation and release.(W5.Jan01, D28, D31)
  • Sea shores are potentially hazardous environments. The risks to human health and safety must be remembered: these include sharp rocks, water and the external environment, which may lead to physical injury, drowning, hypothermia or (less commonly in the UK) hyperthermia/sunstroke. All personnel who may work in such conditions must be given adequate training to ensure that they are aware of the risks and know how to minimise these risks.
  • Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 applies to protect any employees of a wildlife hospital, as well as volunteers at the hospital and visitors. Appropriate safety procedures must be provided to take into account any special risks involved with persons working with non-domesticated species (J35.147.w1, B142.4.w4, B156.21.w21)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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