Catching and Handling of Miscellaneous Birds (Kingfishers, Cuckoos, Woodpeckers, Wrynecks) (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 groups: Alcedo atthis - Common kingfisher, Cuculus canorus - Common cuckoo, Dendrocopus minor - Lesser spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopus major - Great spotted woodpecker, Jynx torquilla - Eurasian wryneck, Picus viridis - Eurasian green woodpecker.

These species are from the families Alcedinidae, Cuculidae, Picidae.

  • Theses species are generally non-aggressive and mainly will not cause damage even if they peck at the handler, although claws may give sharp scratches.
  • Handling should be firm but gentle, with care taken not to put pressure on the bird's body as this may prevent the bird's ribcage moving properly and interfere with respiration.
  • It is important to remember that small garden birds may die from the stress of being handled.

Catching and holding:

  • These birds are most easily caught using a small net.
  • A net with a padded rim should be used to reduce the risk of injury if the bird is caught against the rim of the net.
  • The bag of the net should be made of thin opaque material or fine mesh to reduce the risk of entanglement.
  • May be caught by throwing a lightweight cloth over the bird.
  • May be caught by hand, depending on the circumstances.
  • Small birds may be held in one hand, head pointing between the second and third fingers, body and wings held with the thumb and other fingers and controlling the legs.
  • Very small birds may also be held cupped in the hand.
  • Handling should be firm but gentle.
  • Avoid carrying in the hand for prolonged periods.

Restraint for Examination and Treatment:

  • Small birds may be held in one hand, head pointing between the second and third fingers, body and wings held with the thumb and other fingers and controlling the legs.
  • Expansion of the ribcage must not be hindered at any time.
  • The wings and legs should be released and examined one at a time.
  • The activity and breathing pattern of the bird must be monitored continuously during handling and examination.
  • If the bird becomes too stressed the procedure must be stopped and the bird placed in a quiet, warm, dimly lit environment to recover.
  • Subdued lighting should be used if possible to calm the bird and facilitate handling.
  • Prolonged examination and treatment may be best performed under general anaesthesia.

(B118.5.w5, B123, B151, B225, 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.
  • Consider whether physical or chemical restraint is more appropriate.
  • Excessive chasing should be avoided as this is very stressful to the bird.(B118.5.w5)
  • Avoid carrying in the hand for prolonged periods.
  • Handling in subdued light often quietens diurnal birds.(B118.5.w5, B123)
  • These species are generally not dangerous, non-aggressive and will not cause damage even if they peck the handler.
  • Avoid excessive pressure on the body which may prevent the ribcage from expanding properly and therefore interfere with breathing.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Catching with a net risks injury particularly if the rim of the net catches the bird against a solid surface; the risk of this is reduced if a net with a padded rim is used.
  • Holding too firmly may prevent expansion of the ribcage and thereby compromise respiration.
  • Gloves should not be worn when handling these birds as they reduce sensitivity.(B225)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Appropriate sized nets, the bag preferably of light opaque material or small mesh, and with a padded rim.
  • Suitable cloths such as towels.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Catching and handling disabled individuals of these species is not difficult.
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. (V.w26)
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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