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Introduction and General Information

Search and collection of oiled wildlife is a prerequisite for rehabilitation.

The goal of search and collection operations is to immediately capture safely as many as possible of the oiled animals, to allow them to be treated early in the course of the effects of oil contamination. (D159.III.w3, D183.w6)

Response speed and efficacy:
  • For maximum success the search and collection programme should be pre-planned, well organised and initiated early (immediately after notification of a spill). (B188, D9, D160.4.w4, J313.40.w3, P62.1.w1)
    • Oiled wildlife casualties have a better chance of survival if they are collected and treated quickly. (B363.Intro.w21, D16, D135.4.w4, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4, D214.2.w2, J312.16.w1, P14.5.w5, P62.1.w1)
    • For oiled Enhydra lutris - Sea otters it has been suggested that the chance of survival is greatest if the animal is caught and taken into care within one to two days of oiling. (J30.66.w1)
    • Oiled birds in cold water may die from starvation/emaciation, having used up all nutritional reserves, within one or two days of being oiled. (J313.40.w3)
    • Oiled individuals are at greater risk of predation; losses to predators are reduced by rapid response. (P62.14.w1)
    • Leaving oiled animals until they are so debilitated that it is possible for someone to just walk up to them and pick them up is likely to result in a very low success rate for rehabilitation. (P14.4.w26)
  • Facilities should be established for initial stabilisation and triage before search and rescue teams are sent. (D133.3.w3)
  • The capture and transport of oiled wildlife should be carried out by wildlife responders rather then general oil spill responders, however the oiled wildlife activities should ideally be integrated with the overall oil spill response; this is more economic, minimises conflict in operations, and maximises safety of responders. (P14.7.w3)
    • Liaison with the overall operational command for the general spill response is needed to ensure smooth integration with other spill response activities, access to the sites where oiled animals are found, and to establish the appropriate level of personal protective equipment required for health and safety of personnel. (D183.w6)
    • If possible, areas where wild animal search and collection is taking place should have restricted access, with only persons involved in the search and collection operation being allowed into the area. (D214.2.w2)
  • An effective search and collection effort can reduce further impacts on wildlife (by removing from the environment both live and dead contaminated individuals), save individual casualties which would otherwise die, and maximise the survival rate of oiled wildlife casualties. (D9)
  • Note: Search and collection efforts may occur for a period of e.g. two weeks to two months, starting immediately after the activation of oiled wildlife response. (D159.III.w3)

Effectiveness of search and rescue:

Factors which may affect the effectiveness of search and collection efforts include (D135.4.w4):

  • Time of year;
  • Type and amount of spilled oil;
  • Species affected;
  • Local terrain;
  • Tides;
  • Weather conditions. 

(D135.4.w4, D160.4.w4)

  • Efficiency of capture is likely to be maximised by the availability of a basic capture plan, modified subject to the individual situation. (P62.1.w1)
  • Efforts are more likely to be successful if the response is supported by the regulatory authorities and the spiller. (D9)


  • Beached birds should be captured first, with efforts to capture oiled birds still in the water after those on the beaches have been captured. (D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4)
  • N.B. It has been noted that capture of birds before they are so heavily oiled or debilitated that they cannot even attempt escape may improve the chances of successful progression through rehabilitation to release. (P14.5.w16)
  • It may be justifiable to direct efforts to the preferential capture of endangered and threatened species in some circumstances. (D159.III.w3)
  • Carcasses of oiled animals should be collected during the search and collection of live animals. (D159.III.w3)


  • It is important to remember that requirements for permits for the collection of oiled wildlife casualties vary between countries.
  • In the UK no permits are required for the collection of casualty wildlife, including oiled casualties, because the Wildlife and Countryside Act and other legislation provide for the "taking" of sick, injured or disabled individuals for the purpose of tending them and returning them to the wild. (B284.5.w5, D27, D41)
    • Records should be kept enabling the carer to prove that there was just cause for the animal to be "taken" and kept or euthanased. (D27)
    • Permits are required if birds listed on Schedule 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act are to be kept. Such a bird can be kept by a veterinary surgeon for treatment for up to six weeks. Other persons are required to inform the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that they are in possession of such a bird, in order to receive a temporary licence to keep the bird while it is being cared for. (B284.5.w5)
    • See: Wildlife Casualty Legislation (with special reference to UK Wildlife) for further details on UK legislation relating to wildlife casualties.
  • In the USA both federal and state licences and/or permits are required. (D135.4.w4)
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Human Health & Safety Considerations

Search and collection of oiled wildlife is a potentially hazardous activity which should be undertaken only by personnel with appropriate training. (D133.3.w3)

Human safety has to be the first priority, with the safety of the oiled casualty as the next priority. (D133.2.w2, D133.3.w3, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4)

  • There are a number of physical hazards associated with oiled wildlife response. Environmental hazards may arise from the weather, tides, poor light conditions, rockfalls, the presence of slippery surfaces such as weed-covered rocks and oil-covered beaches, quicksands etc. (D9, D133.3.w3, D137)
  • Search and rescue may not be possible in conditions of hazardous weather, unsafe footing or dangerous water conditions including icing. (D135.3.w3, D160.4.w4)
  • There may be regulations [country specific] limiting rescue operations to authorised individuals. (D133.3.w3)
  • Exhaustion, dehydration, heatstroke and sunburn in hot weather, hypothermia and frostbite in cold weather, must all be considered and the necessary steps taken to minimise the risks of these developing. (D9, D133.3.w3, D135.2.w2, D137, B20.13.w10, B363.2.w2)
  • Health risks directly associated with oil (skin irritation and other toxic effects) must always be considered and appropriate personal protective equipment worn to minimise contact with oil. (B20.13.w10, B335.14.w14, D9, D135.2.w2, P14.3.w12)
    • The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the spilled oil should be reviewed before any oiled birds are handled. (D160.4.w4)
  • Only trained individuals should handle oiled birds. (D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4)
    • Capture of aggressive species such as raptors, herons and cormorants should be undertaken only by personnel trained in handling such species. (D135.4.w4)
  • A first-aid kit should be readily available. (D133.3.w3)
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn. (B363.5.w5, D9, D159.III.w3)
    • All personnel involved in capture of casualties should wear protective goggles. (B363.5.w5, D135.4.w4)
    • Light coverings such as cloths, towels or gloves should be used to prevent direct contact of oil with bare hands, protect hands from pecks and scratches, and to minimise feather damage from contact with human hands. (B363.5.w5, D135.4.w4, D160.4.w4)
    • Heavy gloves are not recommended because they reduce the dexterity of the wearer and may result in birds being injured. (D135.4.w4, D160.4.w4)
    • Protective clothing should be worn: (B363.5.w5)
      • Clothing should have long sleeves and full length trousers, while footwear should fully enclose the feet. (D133.3.w3)
      • Tyvek suits, nitrile gloves, boots (possibly steel toed) etc. should be provided. (D159.III.w3)
    • When working on or near water, personal flotation devices must be worn. (D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4)
  • Good boots or hip waders should be worn to reduce the risk of slipping on oily rocks and enable the wearer to move through water if needed; these also provide some protection against birds' claws. (B188)
  • All injuries should be reported. (D160.4.w4)
  • N.B. Catchers should be aware of the possibility that unexpected sharp objects, such as fish hooks, may occasionally be encountered in, or attached to, birds. (D160.4.w4)

Further information is provided in: Human Health and Zoonoses in Oiled Wildlife Response

Site Hazard Assessment

Prior to the start of search and rescue operations each potential capture site should be evaluated. (D133.3.w3)

  • Strategies should be developed that are suitable for the terrain of the site and the species to be captured. (D133.3.w3)
  • Potential hazards of the site, such as slippery cliffs and incoming tides, must be noted and search and collection teams made aware of these hazards. (D133.3.w3)
  • Collection of oiled wildlife should not be attempted in areas where access is dangerous. Human safety considerations must be paramount. (D133.3.w3)
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Site & Species Assessment

Before initiating wildlife search and collection, information must be gathered on: (D60.6.w6, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4)
  • The species in the spill area;
  • Identity and location of obviously oiled animals;
  • Local foraging, roosting, loafing and breeding areas, and whether oiled birds have moved to such areas;
    • Knowledge of the ecology of the local area is vital. (D160.4.w4)
  • Environmentally (and culturally) sensitive areas which could be negatively affected by capture efforts. 

(D60.6.w6, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4)

  • Both aerial surveillance and reports from members of the public may be used in initial site assessment. (D60.7.w7)

    • Aerial surveys are carried out routinely during general oil spill response, for tracking oil movements; these can also be used to provide relevant wildlife information such as the number of oiled individuals present at sea, or the presence of wild animals in areas threatened by oil. (D183.w6)

Capture plan:

  • Based on the species assessment information, a plan should be developed to maximise capture of oiled individuals while minimising disturbance of nonoiled individuals. (D159.III.w3)
  • The terrain and species will both affect capture plans. (D60.7.w7)
  • As noted above [Human Health & Safety Considerations], collection of oiled animals should not be attempted in areas which are too dangerous. (D159.III.w3)
  • There may be sensitive areas such as rookeries or colonies of endangered species where it is decided that the risk of disturbance is too high for rescue activities. (D159.III.w3)
  • Certain species may be given priority for capture. (D160.4.w4)
    • For example species where the population is likely to suffer long-term effects from the incident. (D60.6.w6)
  • A safety plan for the rescue effort should be prepared, including consideration of personal protective equipment, communication, and hazards of terrain, species being captured, and forecast weather. (D160.4.w4)
  • A central field stabilisation site, to which oiled wild animals are to be brought, should be established. (D60.7.w7)
  • The plan of action should be discussed with the search and collection teams before the process starts. (D60.7.w7)
  • A communications plan should be drawn up. (D160.4.w4)


  • Information available from a Shoreline Response Centre (if one has been set up), and local advice, should be consulted. (P14.7.w30)
  • Field biologists with local knowledge may be invaluable, due to knowledge of where different species may be located. (B363.5.w5)
  • If surveys consider only nearshore areas then oiled pelagic birds may not be detected. (P14.7.w50)
  • It is important for surveys to be conducted as soon as possible for adequate assessment of the number of individuals oiled and to increase the chance of capturing oiled individuals for rehabilitation. (P14.7.w50)
  • Care must be taken that individuals involved in other response activities do not unintentionally disturb oiled animals which have come onto land, and encourage them to move back into the water. (P14.4.w8)
  • If it is decided that it is preferable not to capture and treat some oiled individuals or species (e.g. seals), it is essential that prompt information is given to the public explaining why this decision has been taken. (P14.3.w15)
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Personnel Requirements

Personnel requirements will vary greatly from spill to spill.
  • Teamwork is essential in order to minimise stress on the birds. (D160.4.w4)
  • Teams of at least two people should be used. (B363.5.w5, D60.7.w7, D160.4.w4)
  • Enough teams should be used to provide adequate coverage throughout the area affected by the spill. (D159.III.w3)
  • There should be a nominated coordinator to direct and organise the search efforts. (D159.III.w3)
  • Experienced personnel are required to oversee, conduct and lead search and collection activities. (D159.III.w3)
  • All personnel involved should have been adequately trained in wild animal capture, in order to minimise the risks of injury either to personnel or to the wild animals. (B363.5.w5)
  • NOTE: "The chasing of birds by untrained personnel in any circumstances has potential for harm to people, wildlife and public relations." (P14.3.w18)
  • Personnel involved in search and collection should have been trained in and have experience in water safety together with specialised training such as safety on boats and all-terrain vehicles, animal handling and recognition of the behaviour of oiled animals. (D159.III.w3)
  • Field biologists with local knowledge can be extremely useful as they are likely to have detailed knowledge of locations where specific species may be found, and may also be familiar with field capture techniques. (B363.5.w5)
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Equipment Required

All equipment required for search and collection should be ready and in working condition prior to capture being attempted. (D133.3.w3)

Equipment required may include:

Clothing/Personal protective equipment

  • Appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn. (B363.5.w5, D9)
    • All personnel involved in capture of casualties should wear protective goggles. (B188, B363.5.w5, D135.4.w4)
      • Eye protection is essential when working with bird species with long bills, such as herons, egrets, loons and gannets. (D133.3.w3)
    Hand coverings (e.g. gloves) should be used: 
    • Gloves. (B363.5.w5)
    • Light coverings such as cloths or gloves should be used to prevent direct contact of oil with bare hands. (D135.4.w4)
    • Rubber gloves provide protection against contact with oil as well as protection against bites from birds. (B188)
    • Heavy gloves are not recommended because they reduce the dexterity of the wearer. (D135.4.w4)
  • Appropriate clothing:
    • Appropriate footware. Closed-toed shoes or boots are required. 
      • Wellington boots (gumboots) or waders may be required. (B363.5.w5)
    • Clothing with long sleeves and full-length trouser legs (long pants).
    • Raincoat and waterproof trousers may be required. (B363.5.w5)
    • Hats may be needed. (B363.5.w5)
  • Personal and organisational identification, such as marked clothing and name tags.
  • First Aid equipment. (B363.5.w5)
  • Sunscreen, insect repellent, as appropriate (B363.5.w5)

For catching casualties

  • Towels or sheets (B363.5.w5, D133.3.w3, D135.4.w4, D159.III.w3, P24.335.w20)
  • Long-handled fishing nets (B363.5.w5, D135.4.w4) with handles three to four metres long. (B188)
    • Long-handled nets are useful to increase the distance within which capture is possible. (B363.5.w5)
    • Long-handled fishing nets are suitable for capture of most seabirds. (P24.335.w20)
    • For delicate waders (shorebirds), smaller, lighter weight butterfly nets are more appropriate. (P24.335.w20)
  • Lasso nets. (B188)
  • Hoop nets and cast nest. (B363.5.w5)
  • Throw nets, seine nets. (D135.4.w4)
  • Hand nets, mist nets, traps. (D159.III.w3)
  • Dip nets (D133.3.w3)
  • Note: special permits and authorised personnel may be required for the use of equipment such as mist nets and cannon nets. (B363.5.w5)

For carrying casualties:

  • Carrying boxes (D133.3.w3, D135.4.w4)
    • Well-ventilated pet carriers. (D159.III.w3)
    • Airline-type kennels, portapet containers or cardboard boxes with ventilation holes may be used.(D133.3.w3)
    • Well-ventilated cardboard boxes are suitable for most birds. (D183.w6)
      • Cardboard boxes have the advantage that they may be flat packed for storage and transport. (D183.w6)
    • Carry cages, waxed cardboard boxes. (B363.5.w5)
    • Mammals require stronger and sometimes specialised containers. (D183.w6)
    • Note: 
      • Dry newspapers are suitable as a substrate in carrying boxes. (D139)
      • Straw or hay should not be used in carrying boxes as they may carry spores of moulds such as Aspergillus flavus. (D139)
  • Pillowcases (D133.3.w3, D159.III.w3) Calico bags. (B363.5.w5)
    • Pillowcases are useful for initial transport only. (D159.III.w3)
    • For longer transport or holding, proper carrying boxes should be used. (D159.III.w3)
    • Note: Pillowcases are useful for initial transport because: (D185.w3)
      • Several pillowcases can be carried by each team much more easily than boxes or pet carriers; (D185.w3)
      • Pillowcases prevent visual stress to the animals during transport; (D185.w3)
      • An animal in a pillowcase can be carried close to the person's body, keeping the animal warm; (D185.w3)
      • The load for the person carrying the animal is not too bulky or awkward. (D185.w3)
  • Towels may be useful to aid restraint of a bird's wings against its body while it is being hand carried. (P24.335.w20)


  • Vehicles such as trucks, boats and all-terrain vehicles may be useful. (D159.III.w3)
    • Boats may be useful e.g. for collecting bird from rocky shores. (B188, B363.5.w5)
    • Boats are required for catching birds which have not yet beached. (D159.III.w3)
  • Aircraft may be used to detect the location of oiled animals. (B363.5.w5)
  • Airboats may be required in some circumstances. (P14.3.w18)
  • Ropes should be available for securing boxes. (B363.6.w6)

For field stabilisation:

  • Weighing scales; (B363.5.w5)
  • Stethoscopes; (B363.5.w5)
  • Digital thermometers; (B363.5.w5)
  • Oral rehydration solution; (B363.5.w5)
  • Activated charcoal or enteric coating agent; (B363.5.w5)
  • Feeding tubes (for gavage) in various sizes; (B363.5.w5)
  • Buckets and sterilising solution (e.g. Milton) for disinfecting feeding tubes; (B363.5.w5)
  • Syringes for gavage (various sizes); (B363.5.w5)
  • A means of warming rehydration solution (e.g. a camp stove), a way to light this and pots/pans to put the rehydration fluids in for warming; (B363.5.w5)
  • Sterile saline (at least two bags of 1 L 0.9% sterile saline); (B363.5.w5)
  • Hot water bottles (10); (B363.5.w5)
  • Rolls of paper towel (30); (B363.5.w5)
  • 10 L buckets with lids. (2). (B363.5.w5)


  • Binoculars. (B363.5.w5, D159.III.w3)
  • Spotlights/torches (flashlights). (B363.5.w5)
  • Two-way radios and/or mobile (cellular) telephones for communication. (B363.5.w5, D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3)
  • Appropriate forms, writing implements and clipboards for recording data. (B363.5.w5, D159.III.w3)
  • Other useful equipment includes maps, GPS units, masking tape, rope, photographic equipment. (B363.5.w5)

Equipment maintenance and cleaning: 

  • If equipment is to be available and in good condition when it is needed, then regular checks, maintenance and restocking are required. (D160.4.w4)
  • Equipment must be readily accessible and easy to mobilise. (D160.4.w4)
  • All restraint and transportation equipment should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. (D160.6.w6)
    • Outdoor steam cleaning is preferable. (D160.6.w6)
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Timing of Search & Collection

Time of day and tides should be considered in timing search and collection activities.

  • Oiled birds often come ashore at night. (D60.7.w7, D214.2.w2) 
    • Collection of birds may be more successful if initiated before dawn, with retrieval crews getting into position between oiled birds and the edge of the water just before dawn. (D135.4.w4, D214.2.w2)
  • Searches should be made at low tide, when the greatest portion of the beaches are exposed. (D214.2.w2); collection at this time may be more successful. (D133.3.w3)
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Assessment of Individual Animals for Search & Collection

Not every animal seen near an oil spill may require collection and rehabilitation. It is necessary to ensure that those individuals in need of assistance are collected, while those which do not require assistance are not subjected to capture.


Assessment of whether a bird needs to be collected depends on:

  • The degree of oiling.
    • An aquatic bird with oil covering at least 25% of the body requires capture. (D9)
  • Behaviour: 
    • Individuals seen on land, of species which are not normally seen off water (e.g. loons), are probably oiled and require capture; (B36.42.w42, D9)
    • Birds dragging themselves along by the wings ("wing-walking") usually need to be caught. (D9)
    • Birds which are seen to be shivering, indicating chilling, require capture. (D9)
    • Individuals which are preening excessively are probably oiled and require capture. (D9)
    • Individuals which remain in one place for a prolonged period (not including birds sitting on eggs or chicks) probably require capture. 


  • Birds which are already beached are first priority, with capture of birds on water using boats as a secondary strategy. (D160.4.w4)


  • For oiled pinnipeds it has been suggested that the following groups may be suitable for capture and rehabilitation: (P14.2.w5)
    • Females with pups;
    • Fur seals;
    • Oiled individuals showing signs of distress;
    • Severely debilitated individuals. 

    (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)

  • For pinnipeds with only minor oiling, and showing no obvious signs of illness (e.g. no signs of dehydration, emaciation or weakness), capture and treatment is probably not appropriate: disturbance and stresses associated with capture, handling and treatment may be more harmful than the oil. (D218)

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Bird Capture, Handling and Transport

Techniques for Capture and Holding 

"An effective capture of oiled birds occurs swiftly with minimal pursuit and noise, uses correct techniques based on species pursued and local conditions, and exposes the oiled birds to the least amount of stress." (D160.4.w4)

Capture of oiled wildlife generally takes place along the shoreline. (D183.w6)

When capturing an oiled bird first it is important to prevent the bird returning to the water. (D133.3.w3)

  • Every effort should be made to avoid driving birds back into the water when attempting to capture them. (D135.4.w4)

General considerations for capture:

  • While oiled birds have generally lost the ability to fly, their ability to run and/or swim and dive, and to avoid capture, is generally only reduced. (D183.w6)
    • Individuals which have been significantly weakened by their oiled condition may be fairly easy to catch. Individuals which are still relatively strong may be more difficult. (D183.w6)
    • Highly aquatic birds may already be severely weakened by the time they come onto land; additional stressors should be minimised. (D214.2.w2)
  • Move decisively and avoid hesitation: birds move quickly. (P24.335.w20)
  • Avoid prolonged pursuits. (B363.5.w5) 
    • Birds should not be chased. (D214.2.w2)
    • "The chasing of birds by untrained personnel in any circumstances has potential for harm to people, wildlife and public relations." (P14.3.w18)
  • If several capture attempts fail then the bird should be left alone, not chased to exhaustion, because the stress of repeated capture attempts may be fatal to the bird or reduce its ability to recover. (D135.4.w4, D160.4.w4, D183.w6)
    • Wild animals may be living on a very narrow energy margin; unnecessary energy expenditure can be fatal. (P14.3.w18)
  • Avoid pushing oiled animals into reedbeds: retrieval from such a site is more difficult and it may become further contaminated by trapped oil. (B363.5.w5)
  • Species which normally spend much of their time on land are generally more likely to move off water sooner after oiling than are more aquatic species. D214.2.w2
    • They may in better condition than aquatic species at the time they come onto land; D214.2.w2
    • They may move further from the water and hide in available cover, making them harder to find. (D214.2.w2)
  • In cold and windy conditions it may be necessary to flush birds from shelters such as brush, grass tussocks and rocks before attempting capture. (D135.4.w4)


  • Teamwork is essential. A rescue team for oiled birds consists of at least two people. (D133.3.w3); two or three people. (D9)
    • Teams of three or four people are recommended. (D135.4.w4)
    • Teamwork allows birds to be driven towards a catcher or into an area in which capture will be easier. (P24.335.w20)
  • Persons involved in capture should be trained properly so that they know how to hold birds in ways causing the minimum stress. (D214.2.w2)

Capture on shore:

  • Get between the bird and the water. (B363.5.w5, D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3, D9, D139, P24.335.w20)
    • Also get between the bird and any other escape route, such as thick vegetation. (D9)
    • An extra person walking up the beach away from the bird may distract it, allowing the catcher to approach slowly. (D9)
    • Avoid driving birds into reedbeds: they will be difficult to retrieve and may get oiled from oil on the vegetation. (B363.5.w5)
  • Long-handled nets are useful to increase the distance within which capture is possible. (B363.5.w5)
  • Hold the net on the side of the bird nearest its potential escape route.(D9)
  • Place the net in front of the bird as it flees, so that it runs into the net. (D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3, (P24.335.w20))
    • Avoid bringing the net down on top of the bird: this is more likely to cause injuries such as fractured wings or legs. (P24.335.w20)
  • In an emergency, a cloth such as a coat or sheet may be dropped over a bird to capture it. (D60.7.w7, D139, B188)
    • A cloth may reduce struggling and make the bird easier to handle. (D214.2.w2)
Removing birds from nets:
  • Keep the bird under control and remove it from the net gently to avoid injuries such as ripping the bird's toe nails or breaking feathers. (D133.3.w3)
  • Approach the bird from behind or from the side. (D160.4.w4)
  • Placing a towel or other light cloth over the bird first is recommended (D160.4.w4); this may reduce the risk of the bird escaping while it is being removed from the net. (D9)
    • Throwing a towel or other thick cloth over the bird is particularly recommended for handling aggressive birds. (B363.5.w5)
  • The head should be controlled first, then the body immediately afterwards. (D9)
    • The head should be controlled by grasping the bill where it joins the head, or the neck at the base of the skull, or by cupping the skull.
    • A gloved hand may be used to hold the head if no cloths are available. (D160.4.w4)
    • The neck should not be grabbed; this may injure the bird. (D60.7.w7)
  • Once the head is under control, the wings should be folded against the body, then the bird lifted; the head should be kept under control at all times. (D160.4.w4)
  • The wings should be held gently but firmly to avoid wing flapping. (D60.7.w7)
  • All birds should be held at waist level and away from any faces. (D160.4.w4)

Alternative capture methods:

  • Specific techniques are applicable to certain species. (D160.4.w4)
  • In some circumstances, a system of two two-person teams, one team in a shallow-draft boat and the other on land, may be useful. (B188)
  • Different capture methods may be needed if birds which are only lightly oiled. and are not severely debilitated (i.e. can still fly) are to be captured. (P14.5.w16)
  • A fenced area baited with grain or duck food pellets and covered with a net roof may be used to capture oiled geese and ducks. (D135.4.w4)
    • This may be used also to concentrate unoiled birds to keep them away from oil. (D135.4.w4)
  • Spotlighting, in which birds are captured at night by shining a bright light into their eyes to "freeze" them in place, may enable capture of oiled birds which are in relatively good condition and would be more difficult to capture in daylight. (D16, P14.5.w5, P14.5.w16)
    • This can be used on birds on land but also on birds in the water. (J48.61.w1)
  • Mist netting may be used to catch birds which are lightly oiled. (P14.5.w5, P14.5.w16)
    • This method may capture birds which are still in relatively good condition; such birds have a better chance of surviving washing and rehabilitation. (D16)
    • Mist netting may be used when site fidelity of oiled birds allows nets to be sited effectively, e.g. where they rest during the day and will return if they have been scared away. (D16) Mist netting may even be used over water for the capture of certain species. (J48.66.w1)
    • However, conditions are rarely appropriate for mist netting of oiled birds. (D16)
    • Note: special permits and authorised (trained) personnel may be required for the use of equipment such as mist nets. (B363.5.w5)
  • Trapping may also be used to catch birds which are lightly oiled. (P14.5.w16)
  • Noose snare traps have been used successfully to catch shorebirds. (P14.7.w16)
  • Use of rain to improve capture rates has been described for Pelecanus occidentalis - Brown pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico: lightly to moderately oiled birds could still fly but carried more water in their feathers after heavy rain, therefore tired more easily and could be netted from air boats after a few take-offs and landings. (P14.3.w18)
  • Net guns may be used to catch birds. (D160.4.w4)
    • Note: special permits and authorised (trained) personnel may be required for the use of equipment such as cannon nets. (B363.5.w5)

Handling and carrying:

  • Avoid making eye contact with the bird if possible. (D133.3.w3)
  • Maintain control over the bird's head at all times. (D133.3.w3)
    • Keeping control over the head is particularly important with aggressive birds such as herons, cormorants and raptors. (D135.4.w4)
    • N.B. birds such as cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.), which lack external nostrils, must be allowed to open the mouth slightly in order to breath. (D133.3.w3, D135.9.w9, D137, D140, D160.App4.w12)
  • N.B. The legs of raptors must be secured at all times. (D135.4.w4)
  • Getting the bird under control quickly will reduce struggling and the risk of injury. (D139)
  • Hold birds firmly, possibly wrapped in a towel, to discourage struggling.
    • Holding firmly but gently will reduce struggling. (B363.5.w5)
  • Take care when handing a bird to another person. Communicate, make sure that both people know what to expect. Control of the head should be transferred first (make sure the second person has control before the first person lets go), then the body. (D9)
  • Covering the eyes/head with a cloth bag or a towel may significantly quieten some birds. (B363.5.w5)
  • It is preferable always to control the head without holding the bill tightly shut; stressed birds being handled can overheat and if the bill is held closed they cannot dissipate this heat. (B188)
  • The bird should not have any band, tape etc. placed to prevent it opening its bill. (D160.4.w4)
  • Wrapping the bird in a towel immobilises the wings as well as preventing preening (and therefore further ingestion of oil). (B188)
    • However, wrapping the bird in a cloth is stressful for the bird and additionally may lead to hyperthermia. (D60.7.w7, D135.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
  • Carry birds no higher than waist level to reduce the risk of facial and eye injury to the handler or other people. (B363.5.w5, D133.3.w3, P24.335.w20)

Holding and carrying positions:

  • The bird should be held with the wings folded against the bird's body in a normal position. (D135.4.w4)
  • Medium-sized birds which are not aggressive may be held with both hands around the birds, the wings being folded against the bird's body in a normal position. (B363.5.w5)
  • Small birds may be held cradled in one hand with the other hand placed lightly over the bird's back. (D135.4.w4)
  • Many waterfowl can be carried, covered in a towel, between the side of the handler's body and the handler's arm, facing backwards. (D135.4.w4)
    • This position does not protect another person (e.g. someone examining the bird) from the bird's bill. (B188)
  • Birds may also be held under one arm (the wings being folded against the bird's body), with the other hand controlling the head by holding the base of the skull or the back of the neck (taking care not to grip too tightly). (B188, B363.5.w5)
    • This is useful for aggressive birds. (B363.5.w5)
    • Two people may be required for safe holding of large aggressive birds. (B363.5.w5)
  • For small birds, if the head needs to be held, the body can be held on the palm of one hand and the head can be gently restrained using the thumb and forefinger. (B188)


  • Do not lift a bird by the head or neck: the weight of the body must always be supported. (B363.5.w5)
  • Do not hold birds around the neck as this may restrict breathing and damage muscles. (P24.335.w20)
  • Do not carry by the wings alone - this can injure the bird. (B188, D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3, D135.4.w4)
    • This hold may result in dislocation of the joint or fracture of the humerus. (B188) or brachial paralysis (temporary or permanent). (B10.26.w3, P24.233.w9)
  • Do NOT "pet" or stroke any wild bird at any time as this causes additional stress to the bird. (P24.335.w20)
  • Do not grasp so tightly that the bird's ability to breathe is reduced. (B188, B363.5.w5, D133.3.w3, P24.335.w20) Birds do not have a diaphragm and need to be able to move the ribcage and sternum (keelbone) in order to take a breath. (B188, P24.335.w20)
    • Take care not to hold more tightly if the bird struggles. (P24.335.w20)
Use of cloth bags/pillowcases:
  • Pillowcases or cloth bags may be used as temporary transport containers for oiled birds prior to placing them in appropriate boxes or crates. (D9, D133.3.w3, P24.335.w20)
    • These keep the bird in a dark, quiet, soft environment, and restrict movement (which can be useful particularly for injured birds). (P24.335.w20)
    • An animal in a pillowcase can be carried close to the person's body, keeping the animal warm. (D185.w3)
    • The load for the person carrying the animal is not too bulky or awkward. (D185.w3)
    • The time in the pillowcase must be minimised, particularly when volatile petroleum products (e.g. diesel, jet fuel) are involved. (D133.3.w3)
    • Note: birds in pillowcases are at increased risk of developing hyperthermia (overheating). (D133.3.w3)

Special Considerations for particular Taxa/species:

  • Loons, egrets, herons and gannets all have long bills and can cause eye injuries to the handler or other humans in the vicinity. It is particularly important to ensure that eye protection is worn when working with these species. (D133.3.w3)
  • Puffins, cormorants and gulls, as well as parrots, bite hard and can cause painful bruises. (D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3)
  • Keeping control over the head is particularly important with aggressive birds such as herons, cormorants and raptors. (D135.4.w4)
  • Cormorants and pelicans lack external nares. Holding the bill of any of these birds tightly closed will prevent it from breathing. (D133.3.w3)
  • Long-legged species must be handled with particular care to avoid injury to the legs. (D133.3.w3)
  • Raptors must be handled with care and preferably by experienced personnel. (D135.4.w4, D160.4.w4)
  • Small waders (shorebirds) are easily overlooked hiding in vegetation. Special efforts are required to ensure that these birds are found and cared for before they become hypothermic, dehydrated, emaciated and moribund. (P14.7.w16)
    • Teams of catchers are required to flush small birds from vegetation and catch them, for example using long-handled dip nets. (P14.7.w16)
    • Care should be taken not to injure the delicate long bills of shore birds/wading birds. (B363.5.w5)
  • For further information see: Species Identification and Special Considerations
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Capture on Water

This method is secondary to capture of beached birds, which should take priority. (D160.4.w4)
  • It is important to remember that pursuit will further stress an already stressed (because oiled) bird, and make it use up more energy stores. (D160.4.w4)
  • For best results it is important to know the diving habits of the pursued species. (D160.4.w4)
  • Note: on-water capture may be considered to allow collection of individuals before they become too severely debilitated (with the resultant effect on likely survival). (D183.w6)
  • It must be remembered that attempting capture on water may result in oiled birds diving/flying away and being driven back into oil. (D60.7.w7)
  • Personnel involved must be equipped with appropriate personal protection equipment and a personal flotation device. (D160.2.w2)

If capture of bird on water is to be attempted:

  • The net should be hanging out in front of the boat. (D9)
  • The boat should approach slowly then near the bird, more quickly. (D9)
  • The net is brought over the bird from behind and BELOW the bird, lifting it from the water. (D9)
  • If the bird evades three or four attempts at capture, the attempt should be stopped as further effort risks harming or drowning the bird. Watch from a distance and see if it leaves the water and may be approached on land. (D9)
  • Two boats may be advantageous, so that the target bird(s) can be driven towards the catcher. (P24.335.w20)

N.B. Boats used will become oiled and need cleaning. (V.w73)

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Field Treatment Centre

If there are large numbers of wildlife casualties and it is decided that birds should be stabilised prior to transportation to a veterinary or rehabilitation facility for treatment, then an on-site treatment (stabilisation) centre should be set up. (B363.5.w5, P24.335.w12) 
  • This should be set up away from the main activity and noise associated with the spill response, but with easy access. (B363.5.w5, P24.335.w12)

The treatment area should provide:

  • Adequate shelter from the weather;
  • Protection from extremes of temperature (for oiled wildlife and for personnel);
  • A work surface such as a table (0.9 to 1.0 m high, 1.0 by 2.0 m surface);
  • Sheltered holding areas for (a) untreated birds; (b) treated birds;
  • Adequate ventilation;
  • Space for appropriate equipment and supplies.

(B363.5.w5, P24.335.w12)

Note: an area will be required for decontamination of people and equipment to avoid excessive oil contamination of trucks. (V.w73)

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Field Stabilisation

Veterinary evaluation and initial treatment should occur as soon as possible after capture and certainly within one to two hours, either in the field or on arrival at a treatment centre. (D135.4.w4)
  • When and where initial evaluation and treatment occurs will depend on access to an appropriate treatment centre, the number of oiled casualties, and availability of personnel. (B363.5.w5, P24.335.w12)
  • Field stabilisation should be carried out by trained personnel. (D160.4.w4)
  • Birds may be stabilised in the field if a period of more than one or two hours will be required to reach the rehabilitation facility. (D133.3.w3) More than one hour. (B23.38.w2); more than two to three hours. (D159.III.w3, D60.7.w7, D160.4.w4)
    • Note: if no rehabilitation facility is available then primary care is essential while a facility is identified and prepared as a rehabilitation centre. (D159.III.w3)
    • Provision of first aid and preliminary care is important to minimise additional mortality of birds during transportation to treatment facilities. (D214.4.w4)

Field stabilisation includes:

  • Removal of gross oil contamination and any other foreign material from the eyes, nares (nostrils) and mouth, including around the glottis (entrance to the windpipe). (B188, B363.5.w5, D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3, D139, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4, D214.2.w2, J29.8.w1, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
    • Oil and debris may interfere with the bird's breathing; this treatment should be given first. (D160.4.w4)
    • Clean gauze swabs and cotton buds are suitable for this purpose. (P24.327.w4)
    • Eyes should be flushed with ophthalmic irrigation fluid such as 0.9% sterile saline. (B188, B363.5.w5, D159.III.w3, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
    • Water based antibiotic/anti-inflammatory drops should be applied if the eyes are inflamed. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • Assessment and appropriate treatment for hypothermia or hyperthermia. (D9, D133.3.w3, D159.III.w3, J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12)
    • The bird's temperature is taken, preferably with a digital thermometer placed carefully into the cloaca. (B363.5.w5, P24.335.w12)
      • Normal body temperature for birds is about 41°C; temperatures of 37.5 to 40°C indicate moderate hypothermia; temperatures below 37.5°C indicate severe hypothermia. (P24.335.w12); normal about 39 to 40.5°C (B363.5.w5)
      • Hyperthermia or hypothermia should be treated. (B363.5.w5)
    • Hypothermic birds should be placed in a box padded with dry towels or other cloth. Hot water bottles may be placed under the towel to increase warming; frequent monitoring is required to avoid overheating. (D9
      • Birds with a body temperature lower than 101°F should be warmed. (D159.III.w3)
    • Hyperthermic birds may be placed in a shady area with air movement to blow air through the ventilation holes of the box. (D9)
      • Birds with a body temperature above 106°F should be cooled. (D159.III.w3)
    • Instant heating or cooling gel packs may be placed, wrapped in towels, inside the transport container. (J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12)
    • Transport containers should be placed in a sheltered area with the temperature regulated to promote heating or cooling, as required. (J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12)
  • Wiping excess oil from the bird using absorbent cloth or paper. (B363.5.w5, D60.7.w7, D214.2.w2, P24.327.w, P24.335.w12)
  • Weigh the bird. (B363.5.w5)
  • Treatment for dehydration: (D60.7.w7, B188, D159.III.w3)
    • Oiled birds are nearly always dehydrated when captured. (D160.4.w4, D214.2.w2)
      • It can be assumed initially that each bird is 10% dehydrated. (P24.327.w4)
    • If the bird's condition allows, gavage with oral electrolyte solution (e.g. Pedialyte) at about 30 mL/kg body weight. (D9, D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4, J29.8.w1) at 15 to 30 mL/kg bodyweight (e.g. Lectade) (B363.5.w5); fluids may be given by other routes (subcutaneous or intravenous) in debilitated birds. (D159.III.w3)
    • A period of 15 to 30 minutes rest should be given after gavage before birds are transported, to minimise the risk of fluids being regurgitated. (D159.III.w3)
    • Further information on fluid therapy is provided in Oiled Bird Admission and Stabilisation - Initial Therapy.
  • Reducing oil absorption from the GIT by giving an activated charcoal/kaolin mixture (Toxiban) or another enteric coating agent such as Pepto Bismol. (B363.5.w5, D60.7.w7, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4) Give 3 - 4 g charcoal per kg bodyweight, in rehydration solution. (B363.5.w5)
  • First aid treatment of traumatic injuries: e.g. stopping bleeding, stabilising fractures. (D159.III.w3, J29.8.w1)
    • Strapping of broken or drooping wings before transportation is important to avoid the bird stepping on the wing during transportation (which may cause further injury). (P24.335.w20)
  • Initial triage: if qualified personnel are available, the decision to euthanase some casualties may be made at this point. (D159.III.w3)
    • A triage strategy, agreed by all stakeholders should be included within an oiled wildlife response contingency plan. (D183.w6)
    • Pre-determined triage criteria for field triage may be set down as written instructions. (P14.7.w30) See: Triage and Euthanasia of Oiled Wildlife
  • Records should be made of all treatments given to each bird (or group of birds, if large numbers are being treated). (B363.5.w5, D160.4.w4) 

Oil detection:

It can be difficult to determine whether or not an individual bird is oiled, particularly when dealing with species with dark, naturally shiny plumage. (J313.44.w1)

  • Even a small amount of oil exposure may cause adverse effects, therefore birds found during search efforts may be assumed to be oiled and admitted for cleaning and rehabilitation even if it is not certain that they are oiled. However it must be acknowledged that rehabilitation involves handling stresses, risk of exposure to infectious diseases and risk of development of secondary diseases related to captivity, therefore it is preferable that healthy, unoiled birds should not be taken in for rehabilitation. (J313.44.w1)
  • Recent tests using two immunoassays (RaPID Assay® and EnviroGuard™, both from Strategic Diagnostics, Newark, DE, USA), developed for detection of PAH in soil samples, on feathers from oiled and unoiled guillemots Uria aalge - Common murre, showed that the tests could distinguish between oiled and unoiled feathers. The RaPID Assay showed 96.7% sensitivity and specificity and EnviroGard showed 93.3% sensitivity and 90.0% specificity. Both were considered to be rapid and cost-effective methods for detection of oiling; the EnviroGard test, due to ease of use and rapidity of results, was considered to be more practical for use in an oiled wildlife response situation. It was considered that the tests were unlikely to produce false-positive results, although the chance of a false negative (i.e. a contaminated bird being recorded as uncontaminated) did increase for conditions of high true prevalence, so that a small number of contaminated birds might be wrongly released without being cleaned. (J313.44.w1)
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Transport can be very stressful for wild animals. (B363.6.w6, D139)
  • It is common for the general condition of oiled birds to deteriorate during transport. (B363.6.w6)
  • Stress may be minimised by good planning, suitable transport containers and vehicles, and optimum conditions during transport. (B363.6.w6)
  • Once field stabilisation procedures have been carried out, casualties should be placed in appropriate transport containers and left quiet and as undisturbed as possible in a dark, warm and well ventilated area to await transport. (B363.5.w5, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4)
    • Birds left in such circumstances are less likely to preen and ingest more oil. (D214.2.w2)

Number of birds per container:

  • In general birds should be transported one individual to a box. (D135.4.w4, D159.III.w3)
  • Non-aggressive colonial (social) species may be transported with a total of two or three birds in a suitable sized container. (D133.3.w3, D135.4.w4, D159.III.w3)
    • "Compatible" species, which can be placed more than one to a box, include guillemots, auklets, murres, most ducks, including mergansers (but not scoters (Melanitta spp.), geese, terns, and sandpipers, as well as some grebes (Podicipedidae - Grebes (Family)) (e.g. eared, horned). (D9, D160.4.w4)
    • N.B. during the breeding season, some waterbirds which are colonial and social for much of the year may become aggressive and require individual containers. (D135.4.w4)
    • Consideration of health and strength of individual casualties should be included when making decisions regarding compatibility, as well as whether the species are social or not and whether or not they are aggressive. (D159.III.w3)
    • If more than one bird is placed in a box, they should be looked at about five to ten minutes later, to check that they are indeed compatible. (D160.4.w4)
  • "Incompatible" (aggressive) species, which must be given individual carrying boxes, include shearwaters, albatrosses, fulmars, petrels, divers (loons), scoters, cormorants and gannets, gulls, jaegers, skuas, raptors, herons and some grebes (Podicipedidae - Grebes (Family)) (e.g. Western, pied-billed, red-necked). (D9, D135.4.w4)

Transport containers

  • Containers should be labelled with the date, time and location of capture, the identity of the person who captured the bird, the species (if the bird has been identified), reason why the bird was captured, any known injuries, and any factors which may have caused the injuries. (D60.7.w7, D160.4.w4)
  • When choosing a container consider the safety of the bird during transport, and also the safety of the bird and the handler when the bird is being removed from the container at its destination. (P24.335.w20)

Transport containers must be:

  • Safe for the occupant and for humans carrying the container. (D135.4.w4, D160.4.w4)
  • Of an appropriate size for the occupant:
    • At least twice as large as the bird transported within the container. (D9, D133.3.w3); the container should be large enough to allow the occupant to stand up and turn around comfortably. (B363.6.w6, D9, D159.III.w3)
    • Containers should not be too large, as the bird may then be thrown around excessively during transport and could be injured. (B363.6.w6, P24.335.w20)
    • It should be possible for the bird to stand and to stretch its neck, however restriction of wing movements may be advantageous, preventing flapping which can cause feather damage. (P24.335.w20)
  • Well ventilated. (B363.6.w6, D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3, D135.4.w4, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4)
    • If boxes with side ventilation holes are used, the boxes must be placed at least one to one and a half inches (2.5 - 3.75 cm) apart to ensure adequate ventilation, even if vents are also present on the top of the box. (D133.3.w3)
      • Ventilation holes must be sufficiently large to allow adequate ventilation, but small enough to prevent birds stabbing at personnel through the holes. (B363.6.w6)
  • Well padded inside with sheets, towels or absorbent pads to absorb oil. (D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4)
    • The substrate must be non-slip and non-abrasive. (P24.335.w20)
    • Extra padding is required for divers (loons) to prevent hock abrasions and keel lesions developing during transportation. (D133.3.w3)
    • Foam rubber may be used. (B363.6.w6)
    • Rubber matting covered by one or two towels is appropriate. (P24.335.w20)
    • False net bottoms may be fitted, using knotless netting. (B363.6.w6) see: Net-bottom Cage Construction
    • Boxes should not contain sawdust, hay, straw or similar materials due to risks of secondary infections such as aspergillosis (see: Aspergillosis in Birds). (D60.7.w7, P24.335.w20)
    • Newspaper quickly becomes slippery and, even when dry, does not provide a good footing for many species. (P24.335.w20)
    • Birds should not be wrapped up as this may lead to overheating. (D60.7.w7)
  • Properly closed with secure lids or tops to prevent birds escaped during transport. (D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4)
  • Able to provide protection from the weather, direct sunlight and other animals. They should also provide a visual barrier to reduce stress. (D159.III.w3)
    • Keeping birds in the dark will generally have a calming effect (reducing stress) and reduce preening (and therefore ingestion of more oil). (D60.7.w7, D139, D214.2.w2)
Transport containers suitable for oiled birds include:
  • Airline shipping kennels. (D133.3.w3, D135.4.w4)
  • Pet carriers. (D133.3.w3)
    • Cover the wire door and any windows with a towel to reduce visual stress. (P24.335.w20)
    • Consider the risk of feather damage from wire doors. (P24.335.w20)
  • Plastic pet boxes.
    • Rubber matting plus towels are required on the floor; towels alone will slip on the plastic. (P24.335.w20)
  • Cardboard box with ventilation holes. (D133.3.w3, D135.4.w4)
    • Cardboard boxes are suitable for most small species. (P24.335.w20)
    • Consider the risk of the base becoming saturated if these are used for larger species. (P24.335.w20)
    • Cardboard boxes may disintegrate due to oil soaking in. (P24.335.w20)
  • If wire cages are used they must be covered with a cloth. (B363.6.w6)
  • Note:
    • Containers should be cleaned after use and sprayed with or soaked in disinfectant solution before reuse. (D133.5.w5, B363.6.w6)
      • Outdoor steam cleaning is recommended. (D160.6.w6)
      • Cardboard boxes are not suitable for re-use following oil contamination. 
    • It is important that boxes or other containers do not cause feather damage; this would prevent the bird from being released. (P24.335.w20)
      • Containers which are NOT suitable for transporting birds include wire cages (which may cause feather damage) and burlap bags (which may cause eye damage). (B188, D135.4.w4)
      • Hessian sacking and frayed towels are not suitable as substrates inside containers, as the birds may get caught in the weave or on loose threads. (P24.335.w20)

While awaiting transport:

  • Containers holding birds should not be left unattended. (D160.4.w4)
  • Containers should be placed in a safe, quiet location, away from noise and activity, above the high tide line and away from oil vapours (D160.4.w4)
  • Containers should be protected from temperature extremes and must not be left in direct sunlight. (D135.4.w4, D160.4.w4)
  • Containers should be placed sufficiently far away from another that adequate ventilation is maintained. (D160.4.w4)
  • N.B. Frequent transport to the rehabilitation centre should be arranged, avoiding extended periods of birds waiting in transport containers. (B363.6.w6)

Transport vehicles & conditions during transport:

  • Cars, trucks, vans, boats, planes and helicopters may all be required depending on the circumstances. (D159.III.w3)
  • While road vehicles are used most often, boats or aircraft may be suitable in some circumstances. (D183.w6)
    • Note: personnel with appropriate licences are required to drive the vehicles. (B363.Intro.w21)
  • Transport vehicles should preferably be fully enclosed. (D160.4.w4)
  • Transport vehicles should have adequate ventilation and controllable temperatures. (D159.III.w3)
  • Adequate ventilation must be maintained for both humans and oiled wildlife in transit. (B363.6.w6, J29.8.w1, D60.7.w7, D160.4.w4, D183.w6)
    • It must be remembered that oiled animals may emit petroleum fumes. (D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4)
    • It must be possible for air to flow between containers. (B363.6.w6) Containers should be secured at least 1.5 to 2 inches (3.75 to 5.0 cm) apart to ensure adequate flow of air through side vents, not just through any air holes in the tops of the containers. (D160.4.w4)
    • It is important to ensure that every container has good ventilation. (D183.w6)
  • Reasonable temperatures must be maintained. (B363.6.w6, D183.w6)
    • Temperatures of 25 to 28°C should be provided. (B363.5.w5, B363.6.w6)
    • For wet oiled birds, temperatures may need to be maintained near 80°F; for dry oiled birds, cooler temperatures are required in order to assure comfort and avoid overheating. (D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4)
    • Temperatures should be adjusted depending on the condition of the birds: increase heating if birds are shivering, reduce temperatures if birds are panting. (B363.6.w6)
  • Containers should be out of direct sunlight during transportation. (D135.4.w4)
    • Even in an air-conditioned vehicle, birds may overheat if boxes are in direct sunlight. (D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4)
  • Containers should not be transported in open vehicles such as pick-up trucks. (D135.4.w4)
  • Ensure that exhaust fumes cannot enter the area where animals are held. (B363.6.w6)
  • No domestic animals should be allowed in transport vehicles. (D133.3.w3)
    • Note: If a vehicle has been used for transporting domestic animals, it should be cleaned and disinfected before being used for transport of oiled wild animals. (D208)
  • Noise in transport vehicles should be minimised to reduce stress; time in very noisy vehicles (e.g. helicopters) should be minimised for the same reason. (D159.III.w3)
  • If an open-sided vehicle is used, all containers must be securely attached to the vehicle with ropes or straps before transportation starts. (D160.4.w4)
    • There will be a need to compensate for cold external temperatures and wind chill if an open vehicle is used. (D160.4.w4)
  • Note:
    • Conditions which are comfortable for humans during transport are not necessarily the same as conditions to maintain comfort of animals being transported. (D160.4.w4)
    • All personnel transporting oiled wildlife need to be aware of the importance of both temperature control and adequate ventilation. (B363.Intro.w21)

Monitoring and care during transport:

  • Periodic monitoring is required (J29.8.w1, D60.7.w7) on journeys of more than one hour. (D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4); every two hours (B363.5.w5)
    • Monitoring for overheating is required if the ambient temperature is greater than 70°F (21°C). (D135.4.w4)
      • Hyperthermia may occur when, for example, containers of birds are crowded onto a vehicle left parked in the sun. (B188)
      • If signs of heat stress are seen, such as open-mouth breathing, additional ventilation holes may be required or the number of birds per container must be decreased. (D135.4.w4)
    • Monitoring for chilling is required in cool or cold conditions. (D135.4.w4)
      • Part of the container may be draped with a cloth such as a towel or blanket to provide some protection from cold. (D135.4.w4)
  • Gavage with electrolyte solution may be required. (D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3)
    • Gavage with electrolyte solution is required if journey times exceed four hours (D160.4.w4); five hours. (D159.III.w3); oral fluids should be given every two to three hours on journeys longer than four hours. (B363.5.w5)
  • Stress during monitoring should be minimised: avoid talking, eye contact with the birds etc. (D133.3.w3)
  • Veterinary advice from the responsible veterinarian at the field collection site or the receiving facility should be sought if the condition of a casualty deteriorates suddenly while in transit. (D133.3.w3, D159.III.w3)
  • Note: More frequent monitoring may be required for individuals in a critical or unstable condition, such as those with hypo- or hyperthermia. (D133.3.w3, D160.4.w4)
  • Communication should be maintained between those undertaking transport and both the field crew and the receiving facility, so that the expected departure and arrival times are known. (D160.4.w4)

Special Considerations for particular Taxa/species:

  • Divers (loons) require extra padding in transport boxes to avoid injury to the keel or hocks during transport. (D133.3.w3)
  • Net-bottom cages, if possible, should be used for transport of birds with limited mobility on land, such as grebes, loons, pelagic birds, seaducks and diving ducks. (B23.38.w2, B363.7.w7, D32.5.w5, D135.7.w7, J29.8.w1, P4.1990.w1, P24.327.w26)
  • Long-legged birds should not be transported in boxes which do not allow them to stand up; the floor of the box must provide a secure footing. 
    • Long-legged birds transported with their legs folded may NEVER be able to stand again. (B118.18.w18, J23.7.w1, V.w5)
  • See: Species Identification and Special Considerations

Transportation Time:

  • Transportation time should be minimised if possible. 
  • Well stabilised birds can be transported for up to five hours if necessary. (D159.III.w3)
  • N.B. longer times in transport stress casualties more and can adversely affect the chance of survival. (D159.III.w3)
  • Stabilised birds have a greater chance of surviving transportation than do birds which have not received any stabilisation treatment. (D159.III.w3)
  •  Time in very noisy vehicles (e.g. helicopters) should be minimised to reduce stress. (D159.III.w3)
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Capture and Transport of Mammals

In general, mammals have more ability than do birds to damage humans by biting, clawing or kicking. Catching and handling of mammals, particularly larger species, is therefore challenging. Training, experience and the correct equipment are all important if capture is to proceed without injury to the animals and with minimum risk to human safety.

The following information is designed for the capture and transport of Enhydra lutris - Sea otters, seals and similar mammals. For information about capture, handling and transport of other mammals please consult the pages: Wildlife Casualty Catching and Handling (with special reference to UK Wildlife) and (for information on transport containers) Wildlife Casualty Accommodation (with special reference to UK Wildlife)

  • A plan should be developed before the search area is entered, with strategies chosen depending on the species to be caught and the terrain. (D208.2.w2)
  • Capture should not be attempted in the face of hazards such as adverse weather, other physical hazards and chemical hazards in the "hot zone" of the oil spill. (D208.2.w2)
  • Capture of oiled mammals such as otters and seals requires teamwork, with teams of at least two people. (D208.2.w2)
  • Experienced personnel are required for handling of species such as seals. (D60.7.w7)
  • Capture of individual oiled mammals such as otters and pinnipeds will usually require long-handled nets, throw nets and/or herding boards. (D208.2.w2, D211.6.w6, P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
    • Tangle nets or float nets may be used for capture of oiled individuals in the water. (D208.2.w2, D211.6.w6)
    • Specialised equipment such as Wilson traps have been designed for capture of Enhydra lutris - Sea otters in the water. Use of these requires divers in SCUBA gear, and special training is needed. (D208.2.w2, D211.6.w6)
    • Boats may be required offshore to discourage animals from going back into the water once they have hauled out onto e.g. jetties. (P14.3.w15)
    • Herding boards are less useful for herding in rocky areas. (P14.3.w15)
  • For capture of oiled seals in the UK, British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) may be approached to provide personnel with the appropriate expertise. (D60.7.w7)

Field stabilisation:

Field stabilisation may be used if a delay of more than one to two hours is anticipated before animals will reach a rehabilitation centre. (D208.2.w2) This includes:
  • Assessment of and treatment for hypothermia or hyperthermia, as appropriate. (D208.2.w2, P14.4.w8)
  • Treatment for dehydration: oral and subcutaneous fluids. (D208.2.w2, P14.4.w8)
  • Treatment for shock. (P14.4.w8)
  • Removal of oil from around the nose/mouth to ensure that the airways are clear. (D60.7.w7, D208.2.w2)
  • Removal of oil from the eyes. (D208.2.w2)
  • Provision of fluids, antibiotics and vitamins may improve survival. (D60.7.w7)
    • 500 ml lactated Ringer's solution subcutaneously, 20,000 U/kg penicillin intramuscularly (then repeated once daily), 2 mg/kg gentocin intramuscularly (repeated three times daily) and B vitamins (1 mL per 10 kg B-vitamin complex, subcutaneously) followed by eight hours of rest increased the survival rate of oiled Enhydra lutris - Sea otters during transportation. (B22.33.w9)

Transport containers:

  • Seals, otters etc. should be transported one to a cage. (D208.2.w2)
  • Good ventilation is important. (D208.2.w2, P14.2.w5,  P14.3.w15)
  • A mother and pup should be transported in separate cages but with visual and auditory contact. (D60.7.w7, P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
    • If more than one mother-pup pair are being transported, accurate labelling of cages is essential to avoid mixing up pairs. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
  • Immature pinnipeds may be transported with more than one animal in a cage if necessary. (D208.2.w2)
  • Cages need to be designed and made for safe transport and allowing for carriage of heavy animals by hand. (D208.2.w2)
  • Vari-kennels or cat cages (plastic-covered wire) may be used for otters. (D60.7.w7)
  • Plastic airline kennels may be used for transport of smaller pinnipeds. (P14.3,w15)
    • Boxes or water tanks may also be used if necessary for small individuals (D60.7.w7)
  • For larger pinnipeds, lightweight cages (e.g. made from aluminium) are required, with vertical sliding doors at both ends and lift points for carrying and if possible for winch attachment. (D208.2.w2, 14.3.w15)
  • A raised grate on the floor of the kennel has been recommended for Enhydra lutris - Sea otters to avoid additional fouling during transport. (D208.2.w2)

While awaiting transport:

  • A period of rest prior to transport may improve survival. (D60.7.w7)
  • For hyperthermic individuals, cooling may be initiated by gentle spraying with water, or by placing ice cubes on the top of the cage, so that the melting water will drip onto the animal. (D208.2.w2)
  • Hypothermic animals should be placed in a sheltered location out of the wind, while ensuring that good ventilation is maintained to minimise inhalation of petroleum fumes. (D208.2.w2)
  • Note: Oiled, stressed and injured animals have reduced thermoregulatory capacity and a hypothermic animal may become hyperthermic after excessive handling, inadequate ventilation, if the cage is placed in sunlight without appropriate shading or if it has a seizure. (D208.2.w2)

Transport vehicles & conditions during transport:

  • If a vehicle has been used for transporting domestic animals, it should be cleaned and disinfected before being used for transport of oiled wild animals. (D208.2.w2)
  • Minimise stressors, such as human voices, during transport. (D208.2.w2)
  • Careful monitoring of temperature is required during transport, particularly for individuals which are hypothermic, hyperthermic or unstable. Oiled individuals may need higher temperatures than is usual for non-oiled individuals of the same species. (D208.2.w2)
    • Flippers should be cool to the touch. Cold, clammy flippers indicate hypothermia while warm flippers indicate hyperthermia. (P14.3.w15)
    • Monitoring body temperature with a rectal thermometer is not recommended due to the stress on the animal involved in inserting a deep rectal probe and the risk of associated hyperthermia. (P14.3.w15)
    • Steam rising from a pinniped is an indicator of hyperthermia. (P14.3.w15)
  • To avoid dehydration, water should be offered in the form of ice. (D208.2.w2)
  • It is suggested that most oiled pinnipeds be transported with the air temperature maintained at 18 °C. (P14.3.w15)
    • Ice and running cold water may be used to cool hot pinnipeds. (P14.2.w5)
  • Oiled neonatal phocids, and fur seals, may require higher environmental temperatures to avoid hypothermia. (P14.3.w15)
    • Warm towels, heaters and hot water bottles may be used to warm up hypothermic individuals. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
    • Note: careful monitoring is required to ensure that hypothermic animals, provided with a heat source which they cannot move away from, do not then become hyperthermic. (P14.3.w15)
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Removal of Dead Individuals

Dead animals should be removed during search and collection activities. (B363.5.w5, D9, D185.w3, D159.III.w3, D208.7.w7) 
  • Removal of dead animals:
    • Reduces the risk of scavengers becoming contaminated. (D9, D60.7.w7, D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4, D185.w3)
    • Reduces general contamination of the environment. (D9)
  • Additionally, removal of carcasses may be required by law, and the carcasses may act as evidence for proof and assessment of the environmental impact of a spill. (D9)
  • Note: Information from dead birds collected can give important information regarding the impact of an oil spill on seabird populations, as well as providing further information on e.g. diet and taxonomy. (P14.7.w46)
    • It is important to collect dead birds throughout spill response operations, not just during initial response, since there may be important changes in the species becoming oiled over the duration of the spill. (P14.7.w46)


  • Each carcass should be wrapped individually and stored in a plastic bag, together with a record (in its own bag, attached to the carcass's bag) detailing appropriate information about the carcass (when and where found, by whom). (D9)
    • If cause-of-death analysis is important, each carcass must be wrapped in clean foil before being placed into a plastic bag (the foil prevents contact with the plastic, which could contaminate the hydrocarbon sample from the oiled specimen). (D160.4.w4)
  • Carcasses may be refrigerated for post mortem examination or frozen prior to disposal. (B363.5.w5)
  • Carcasses may be frozen if necropsy will not be possible within 72 hours. (D208.7.w7)


  • Each carcass should be labelled (location found, date, species etc.). (B363.5.w5)

Health and safety:

  • Protective clothing, particularly rubber gloves, should be worn when carcasses are being handled. (D9)
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Records should be kept of each individual bird collected. (B363.5.w5, D133.3.w3, D159.III.w3, D214.4.w4)
  • This may be a legal requirement.
    • In the UK, records may be required to show that a casualty animal of a protected species was taken from the wild, and is being held, for reasons permitted under legislation such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. (B284.5.w5, D27)
    • In the USA, requirements for a rehabilitator's licence include an annual report listing the species handled, the date and reason each animal was obtained and the disposition of each casualty. (D135.4.w4)

Information on each individual casualty should include:

  • Time and date of capture. (D159.III.w3)
  • Identity of capture team. (D159.III.w3)
  • Location of capture site (identified by GPS is possible). (D159.III.w3)
  • Species. (D159.III.w3)
  • Any initial treatment given. (D159.III.w3)

Records should also be kept of each dead oiled animal collected, including:

  • Time and date of collection. (D159.III.w3, D183.w6)
  • Identity of collection team. (D159.III.w3)
  • Location of collection site (identified by GPS if possible). (D159.III.w3, D183.w6)
  • Cause of death. (D183.w6)
  • Details should be attached to each carcass. (D159.III.w3)
  • In the USA, this data is used in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment. (D159.III.w3)
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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Dr Virginia Pierce (V.w73)

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