TECHNIQUE

Catching and Handling of Waterfowl (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: Aix galericulata - Mandarin duck; Anas acuta - Northern pintail, Anas clypeata - Northern shoveler, Anas crecca - Common teal, Anas penelope - Eurasian wigeon, Anas platyrhynchos - Mallard, Anas strepera - Gadwall, Anas querquedula - Garganey, Anser albifrons - Greater white-fronted goose, Anser anser - Greylag goose, Anser brachyrhynchus - Pink-footed goose, Anser erythropus - Lesser white-fronted goose, Anser fabalis - Bean goose, Aythya ferina - Common pochard, Aythya fuligula - Tufted duck, Aythya marila - Greater scaup, Branta bernicla - Brent goose, Branta canadensis - Canada goose, Branta leucopsis - Barnacle goose, Bucephala clangula - Common goldeneye, Clangula hyemalis - Long-tailed duck, Cygnus columbianus - Tundra swan, Cygnus cygnus - Whooper swan, Cygnus olor - Mute swan, Melanitta fusca- White-winged scoter, Melanitta nigra - Black scoter, Mergellus albellus - Smew, Mergus merganser - Common merganser, Mergus serrator - Red-breasted merganser, Oxyura jamaicensis - Ruddy duck, Somateria mollissima - Common eider, Tadorna tadorna - Common shelduck.

These species are from the family Anatidae.

  • Swans and geese use their wings in defence and a blow from a wing may cause severe bruising.(D29)
  • These birds may bite, but this will produce a bruise at the worst. As with all birds, they should be held away from anyone's face and eyes.(D24)
  • These species are likely to be particularly aggressive when defending their nest or young.
  • Carrying waterfowl by the wings, particularly with both wings held in one hand and particularly for the larger species, may cause undue strain on the muscles and joints, and even result in nerve damage. (V.w5)

Catching and Handling:

  • Catching waterfowl on a lake may require several people, some on land and others in boats.(B16.19.w1)
  • It should be remembered that ducks in particular are capable of a near-vertical take off, while swans require a run-up to achieve flight.
  • A long-handled deep net is useful for catching waterfowl. (B40, B108) The size of net and mesh should be matched to the size of the bird being caught.
  • A large piece of cloth, such as a large towel or a lightweight coat, may also be dropped over the bird if it is on land.(V.w5)
    • Once caught under a net or cloth, the bird may be pressed against the ground and the wings gathered to and held against the body through the material of the net or cloth.
    • The grip is then transferred to hold the bird under the net/cloth.
    • The net/cloth should not be lifted until the handler has control of the bird, including control of the wings, body and (for long-necked species) the head.
  • Swans and geese may be caught using a swan hook to grasp the neck. This is gently pulled backwards to disturb the bird's centre of gravity and slow its movement. The handler then quickly grasps the wings holding them folded against the body.
  • It is also possible to catch a goose or swan in a similar manner by hand, with one hand grasping the neck just behind the head, and the second hand quickly gathering the wings folded up against the body.
  • For catching oiled seabirds such as scoters (Melanitta spp.), one method which has been found useful is to catch the birds on shore just before dawn at low tide.
    • This reduces the chance of the ducks detecting the catchers and increases the distance the birds must move to reach the water where they can escape.
    • The catchers preferably approach the birds from the west so that they are hidden as much as possible and have an increased opportunity to spot the birds against the lightening sky.
    • One person walks along the water's edge, the other at the high tide mark.
    • When a bird is spotted it may be possible to approach and grab it, sometimes assisted by momentarily dazzling the bird with a torch (flashlight), or if the approach of the person at high tide "flushes" the bird, it may be caught by the other person before it reaches the water.
    • Final capture with a towel or a landing net was suggested.
    • (P14.5.w6)
  • Ducks may be held and carried with both hands around the body and wings.
  • Geese and swans may be held and carried with one arm wrapped around the bird, with the head and neck facing backwards. The second hand is free or may be used to give some further support to the weight of the bird from underneath.
  • Geese and swans may be held and carried with one arm wrapped around the bird, with the head and neck facing forwards and held with the other hand just behind the head.
  • Supporting the feet with the hands is advisable to make the bird feel secure and reduce struggling.
  • N.B. It is not advisable to carry waterfowl by the wings, particularly not by holding both wings in one hand, as this may cause undue strain on the muscles and joints and even nerve damage.(V.w5)

Restraint for examination and treatment:

(B16.19.w1, B169.43.w43, D24, V.w5)

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.
Notes
  • Handling in subdued light often quietens diurnal birds.(B118.5.w5, B123)
  • A padded rim may reduce the risk of injury if a bird is caught under the rim of the net, but may also become waterlogged and heavy. (V.w5)
  • The wings should be restrained by being kept against the body.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Catching wild waterfowl, particularly diving ducks, on water, is extremely difficult.
  • Birds may be wary of poles and avoid them; this causes problems when trying to catch using a swan hook.
  • Carrying waterfowl by the wings, particularly with both wings held in one hand and particularly for the larger species, may cause undue strain on the muscles and joints, and even result in nerve damage. (V.w5)
  • May bite, but this will produce a bruise at the worst. As with all birds, they should be held away from the handlers face and eyes. (D24)
  • Swans and geese use their wings in defence and a blow from a wing may cause severe bruising.(D29)
  • These species are likely to be particularly aggressive when defending their nest or young.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Suitable sized net.
  • Swan hook, if required.
  • Suitably sized towels or other cloths.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Experience is advantageous for catching and handling these species safely.
  • For the larger species in particular inexperienced handlers should seek advice and assistance.
Cost/ Availability
  • Appropriate nets and swan hooks 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; 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
References

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