Wildlife Conferences


Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland


IWM Flyer


Adult Bird



Rehabilitation of wildlife casualties requires a licence and a large investment of time and resources. It is mainly in the animal’s best interest to transfer it to an appropriately trained and equipped individual/organisation as soon as possible.

Before attempting to capture a wildlife casualty:

  • Observe, assess, discuss, then decide whether intervention is appropriate
  • All wild birds can potentially transmit disease and inflict serious injuries
  • Remember, your own safety is of paramount importance

Barn Owl Project: assessing the impacts of rat poisons on Irish Barn Owl populations. Report carcasses or live sightings to jlusby@birdwatchireland.ie




  • Lying on its side and floppy – needs veterinary attention immediately
  • Caught by cat
  • Oiled
  • Hit by car
  • Concussed e.g. crashed into window
  • Dangerous location e.g. on road, fallen into water, garden with cats, seabird found inland
  • Can’t fly e.g. injured wing, grounded swift, grebe or diver away from water
  • Obviously injured e.g. leg dangling, can’t stand up, broken beak
  • Trapped or caught e.g. in fishing gear – do NOT cut free and release until fully assessed


  • Only one eye – unless bird of prey
  • Swan not on water
  • Bird standing on one leg

FIRST try to call relevant contact number from CONTACT page for further advice


  • Follow capture instructions below
  • Capture ONLY if you have adequate equipment and container
  • Consider personal safety on roads e.g. reflective jackets, warning signs
  • Bring to a vet if possible, if not bring home temporarily
  • Follow husbandry advice for feeding and housing
  • Call relevant contact number from CONTACT page for further advice


  • If you can approach the bird lay a blanket/coat over the casualty for warmth
  • If bird is on the road, protect it from traffic if possible
  • Consider personal safety on roads e.g. reflective jackets, warning signs
  • Do not drag the animal off the road, IF safe to do so, lift it to a safe place on a coat/towel (see Unconscious casualty capture)
  • Note exact location and call relevant person from CONTACT page
  • Ideally stay with the casualty until someone comes to help


  • If bird is in dangerous location eg on the road, protect it from traffic if possible
  • Note exact location and call relevant person from our website contact page
  • If possible stay with the bird until someone else can rescue it

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Blanket/towel, gloves, cat carrier or strong cardboard box, long handled net, protective glasses

Protect yourself
Many water birds e.g. grebes and herons, have sharp beaks
Use protective glasses of any sort if available or keep bird well away from your face
Birds of prey have strong feet and sharp talons
Welding gloves are ideal for birds of prey
Birds may also have parasites or may carry disease so wear gloves if available

Before picking up the bird
Look for any obvious injuries and be careful not to further injure the bird when handling it

capture equipment
© Colin Seddon

Bird capture

  • Have your container for transport pre-prepared; ready and open
  • Attempt capture from direction that bird would naturally fly to
  • If bird is flapping away quickly, use net to GENTLY pin the bird to the ground
  • Lay a towel over the bird
  • Care if handling birds of prey that may have sharp talons
  • Wrap entire bird in towel and place carefully in transport container
  • If possible retrieve towel to give the bird space and ventilation

Cat carrier or strong cardboard box with secure lid
Wire cages are not ideal - stress and risk of feather damage
Line the container with a clean towel or newspaper
Container needs to be large to hold the bird but small enough to prevent it flapping around
Provide ventilation if using cardboard box, make tiny air holes low down on the sides of the box
Secure container – prevent severely debilitated/unconscious bird making a sudden recovery and escaping
Protect from excessive noise, vibration, extremes of temperature, wind, rain and direct sunlight

Use gloves/towel
Do not handle unnecessarily
Once captured do not try to calm bird by talking to it
Keep other domestic animals away



See SUPPLIES page for food and equipment mentioned below

Step by Step:

  • Warmth
  • Peace and quiet
  • Darkness
  • Nutrition

Container must be large enough for bird to stand up and turn around in
House indoors in a warm quiet area, out of direct sun or drafts
Keep away from domestic animals and children
Darken the container to reduce stress
Line with newspaper with towel on top for grip and warmth
Put a branch in container if bird is a perching bird
Do not put water birds e.g. ducks, in water

  • sturdy cardboard box
  • cat/dog carrier
  • shower cubicle, without water, can be ideal for large, messy, waterbirds

The bird should feel warm to the touch
Small and/or injured birds will need an ambient temperature of 25-30˚C
If it is a large bird and looks bright and alert, room temperature should suffice
If the bird is cold it will be unwilling to feed


See SUPPLIES page for food and equipment mentioned below

Birds have very high energy/food requirements, which are increased further by disease or injury
Do not try and force feed any food or water to adult birds, leave both in the container with them

The exception to this is swifts, swallows and house martins
If you rescue one of these birds and it can’t be passed on to an experienced rehabilitator within a few hours and is alert, it will need hand or force feeding.
Try to follow the instructions and photos in the ‘swift – swallow’ section below

Use links page for bird identification website if unsure of the species. Inappropriate food could kill

Species specific food
The sooner you identify the bird, the sooner you can provide the best diet
Use links page for bird identification website if unsure of the species. Inappropriate food could kill

In general birds’ diets can be split into four groups and the diet can be guessed at by the shape of the beak, see below

seagull beak insectivore beak granivore beak bird of prey beak
© Margie Hanrahan
© Chelsea Collins
© Andrew Kelly
© East Sussex Wildlife Rescue

Here is a list of the different species you may encounter and short term feeding suggestions:

Finch - Sparrow – Goldfinch
- garden bird seed, porridge oats, marrowfat peas, budgie or canary seed mix/millet

Pigeon – Dove
-  garden bird seed, porridge oats, marrowfat peas, poultry corn

Hawk - Owl - Falcon
- raw minced beef

Jay - Magpie - Crow - Raven
- dog food

Meadowlark – Blackbird - Thrush – Robin- Starling - Warbler - Wren 
- maggots, mealworms, dog food

– sprat, whitebait or herring in shallow bowl of water

Seabirds eg guillemot, razorbill, fulmar, gannet, cormorant, shag
– sprat, whitebait, herring or mackerel (not tinned) in shallow bowl of water

Seabirds - Gulls
– sprat, whitebait in shallow bowl of water or tinned cat/dog food

housemartins in moss feeding swallow waxworm swifts in nest
© Chelsea Collins
© Robert Lavoie
© Erich Kaiser courtesy of www.swift-conservation.org

Swift / Swallow & House Martins

Before attempting to feed, offer liquid by dipping a cotton bud in room temperature water and wiping it gently along the side of the beak.
If the bird has closed or sunken eyes it is probably dehydrated and should only be given fluids.

Emergency feeding

Species specific food : applies to Swifts, Swallows & House Martins in order of preference:
Crickets(head & legs removed) Wax worms(Heads removed) Mini meal worms (Heads removed)
WHITE maggots(Skins pierced ) If only dry food available it must be well soaked first. Honey Bee drone larva is ideal food, if available.
Tinned cat food absolute emergency last resort for Swallows & House Martins.

Swallows & House Martins
Adult House martins may pick up food from the ground/bowl
Young Swallows & House Martins, depending on age, will probably gape, if not it may be because stressed and after a couple of hours left to settle in a quiet place may gape. If not they will need to be hand fed by gently opening the beak from the side and placing an insect into the back of the mouth, do not force down the throat, these birds will swallow if they want the food.
2-4 items every 30 minutes.

Quite different from other birds: Important to offer liquid as described and try to assess age and weight for guidance.
Before attempting to feed a swift, PLEASE READ:
and watch these videos for technique a www.youtube.com/user/dgfmev

The bird must be adequately hydrated and bright and alert, before solid food is offered.
Quantity – 2-4 wax worms or a small teaspoon of dog food. Too little is better than too much.
Technique - use your finger nail to gently open the bird’s beak from the side, its beak is VERY soft and fragile. Then hold the beak open by putting your index finger slightly into the bird’s beak. Using a blunt-ended pair of tweezers, place the food at the back of the bird's mouth. Young swifts do not gape but may try to swallow your finger; this is quite normal and makes the feeding easier.
Frequency - every two hours during the day.


Precocial birds:

- garden bird seed or poultry corn or porridge oats, bread crumbs

Swans - geese – ducks
- bread pieces and grass in bowl of water, shredded cabbage or other greens in water

– whitebait in shallow bowl of water


All alert and standing adult birds must have access to fresh water or rehydration fluid at all times

Rehydration fluid
Home-made version - “1 pinch sugar and 1 pinch salt in 1 cup of warm water”

Leave fluids in a small heavy shallow bowl in the box with the bird, clean and fill regularly
At this stage even waterbirds should not be allowed to bathe in the water so a wide shallow dish of water with an upturned bowl in the centre of it is a good solution for birds such as ducks
Only leave fluids in with the bird if the bird is alert and standing

A faecal sac is a white jelly-like 'envelope' containing the bird’s faeces (not all species produce this)
Keep the bird’s container as clean as possible to prevent damage to the feathers
Normal droppings contain brown or dark green faeces and white urates

If the droppings are loose and runny, the bird has possibly received too much food


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Rehabilitation of wildlife casualties requires a licence and a large investment of time and resources. It is mainly in the animal’s best interest to transfer it to an appropriately trained and equipped individual/organisation as soon as possible.

Before attempting to capture a wildlife casualty:

  1. Observe, assess, discuss, then decide whether intervention is appropriate
  2. All wild birds can potentially transmit disease and inflict serious injuries
  3. Remember, your own safety is of paramount importance

Barn Owl Project: assessing the impacts of rat poisons on Irish Barn Owl populations. Report carcasses or live sightings to jlusby@birdwatchireland.ie


See separate pages for species specific details regarding HOUSING, HANDLING, AND RELEASE for:

Corvids (Crows)
Game birds
Garden birds
Birds of prey

Read GENERAL PUBLIC section first. Extra information for long term husbandry below


Small birds
Gently place your hand over the bird’s back and wrap your fingers around its wings to keep them from flapping
robin handling
© Colin Seddon
Medium birds
Hold with two hands, one over each wing
handling pigeon
© Craig Stray
Raptors e.g. kestrels, buzzards
A cornered bird may flip on its back and face you with its dangerously sharp talons
Distract the bird by giving it a towel to grip in its claws
While its feet are busy, place another towel over its head to quieten the bird
Grasp the bird firmly but gently at the back of the head with one hand
Use your other hand to hold the bird’s legs firmly between the ankle and foot to immobilise the talons
As you pick the bird up, use your forearm to pin the bird’s wings against your body
tawny owl handling
© Becki Lawson
Water birds
Duck; hold with two hands, one over each wing
Swan; throw towel over bird's head, using both hands press it's wings against it's body, scoop up under one arm, restrain head with spare hand
Heron; technique as for swan but beware sharp beak
Swan Handling
© Chelsea Collins

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Food needed for feeding various bird species:
See SUPPLIERS page for details of food below

  • Wild garden bird seed
  • Poultry pellets e.g. chick crumbs, chicken growers’ pellets
  • Pigeon mix
  • Mixed corn
  • Game bird starter diet
  • Tinned cat and dog food
  • Dried and live insects e.g.  waxworms, mealworms, maggots
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements e.g.  SA37, vionate, nutrobal, cricket diet calci-paste
  • Thiamine supplement  e.g. aquaminivits
  • multivitamin powder
  • Vitamin E
  • Salt tablets
  • Vitamin B12
  • Grit
  • Dead chicks/mice
  • Fish e.g.  whitebait, sprat, herring

Casualties are often dehydrated and anorexic on arrival and require energy immediately
If unresponsive/unconscious – needs veterinary attention immediately

Feeding steps:

  • Rehydration solution
  • Liquid nutrition
  • Solid food

If bird bright and alert and immediately takes to solid food and water offered, skip first two steps

Initially by gavage (see rehabilitators section of Baby Bird)
(Subcutaneous fluids administered by a vet may be more suitable for tiny garden birds)
First 1-3 feeds - Lectade or equivalent rehydration solution
Next 1-3 feeds - Critical Care Formula or human liquid nutrition e.g. Ensure
Start with 1% bodyweight per feed, if bird coping well with that amount then increase to 2% body weight per feed. (1ml = 1g) Feed a maximum of 2mls per 100g of bird per feed
Finally move onto solids

Rough guide for gavage/force feeding

Bird’s weight

Number of feeds per day

Less than 500g






All adult birds must have access to fresh water and/or rehydration fluid at all times
Always leave species specific adult solid food available, even during gavage feeding period

Provide food ad libitum
All adult birds must have access to fresh water and/or rehydration fluid at all times
Always leave species specific adult solid food available, even during gavage feeding period
The crop should be empty before each feed if gavage/hand feeding (N.B. owls do not have a crop)
Most species eat 10-20% of their body weight per day; initially much less, gradually increase
Carnivorous birds (raptors, fish eaters, shore birds) may take up to 50ml/kg per feed

The first feed should not be given until the bird feels warm and looks reasonably alert

GRIT: all seed and corn feeders will need a bowl of grit / oyster shells to aid digestion

Species specific food
The sooner you identify the bird, the sooner you can provide the best diet
Use links page for bird identification website if unsure of the species. Inappropriate food could kill

Here is a list of the different species you may encounter and what to feed them
Thrushes, cuckoos, starlings and nuthatches, tits, wagtails, fly-catchers, warblers
– very small maggots, mini mealworms or waxworms
Vitamin and mineral supplement e.g. Cricket Diet Calci-Paste

Swallows, swifts and martins
See diet described on General Public page
 –Crickets (Large Silent crickets from Directs Food Live are best) & wax worms are the best combination but also a few very small white maggots, & mini mealworms.
Vitamin and mineral supplement e.g. Cricket Diet Calci-Paste
Strictly insect eaters, will never pick up their own food so will need hand or force feeding.
Before feeding a swift, PLEASE READ:
and watch these videos for technique a www.youtube.com/user/dgfmev

Sparrows, finches, buntings
 - wild garden bird seed
Sprinkling of multivitamin powder once a week

Corvids (crows, rooks, jackdaws, etc)
– tinned dog food and occasionally day-old chicks / mice

Collarded and turtle doves, pigeons and larger doves
– pigeon mix, mixed corn, or chicken growers’pellets
(In the wild these columbids feed their young on a type of milk produced in their crop until weaning)
If feeding mixed corn, vitamins and minerals need to be added

– small fish – whitebait

Birds of prey
– whole animal diet from birth; meat, bone, fur or feather. Chopped day old chicks or dark coloured mice. Fresh road-kill animals as a supplement but be aware there is a risk some may have lead shot in them
vitamins and minerals

– sprat or herring. Can be weaned onto day old dead chicks. Force feeding is possible but regurgitation is common if stressed

Seabirds e.g. guillemot, razorbill, fulmar, gannet, cormorant, shag
– sprat, whitebait, herring
Vit E, thiamine, salt for some seabirds- non essential for brackish/fresh water birds e.g. cormorants and gulls – Aquaminivits

Seabirds - Gulls
– sprat, whitebait or tinned fish flavoured cat food, or chopped day old dead chicks



Pheasants, ducks, partridges
 – chick crumbs then move to grower pellets or mixed corn
Vit B12 weekly and thiamine tablet

Swans, geese
– poultry pellets (grower/layers) or mixed corn

Moorhens , coots
– poultry pellets (growers) or mixed corn. Live clean maggots, mealworms or waxworms

– whitebait in shallow bowl of water or into clean water when swimming


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Always seek advice from specialist organisations with knowledge of suitable release sites/habitat

Careful assessment and appropriate health checks should be carried out prior to release, as to the risks of released bird introducing new diseases into the wild population/environment

Release criteria/considerations
Need to be wild – wary/scared of humans, domestic animals and any other natural predators
Must be able to walk, fly, see, feed and preen
Must be physically fit, mentally sound, stable body weight for over 7 days
Be sufficiently fit for sustained flight, especially migratory species
Can’t be released if underweight, unable to recognise/eat normal diet etc
Must be of an appropriate weight for the age, sex, and time of year for the species
Do not release in winter unless it has sufficient body weight to cope with the cold
Migratory species released during or just before migration must have sufficient body reserves for migration
Must have adequate plumage, normal waterproofing/weatherproofing, and be acclimatised to outdoor weather conditions
Ideally return to original location unless dangerous or unsuitable
Release away from areas where they could cause damage
Consider natural history of the bird and the location of local wild populations of these birds
Ideally identify animal in some way e.g. ring or tag, for post release monitoring/identification

Release site
If only in captivity for short period of time, ideally return to exact location bird was rescued, or nearest safe area
Appropriate habitat for species appropriate food availability
Within the birds natural distribution area
Landowners must be supportive of the project if the bird is likely to settle in the vicinity after release
Use different locations, prevent oversaturation of an area

Release timing
Release as soon as possible, a captive environment is extremely stressful for a wild bird
Release during a period of favourable weather
During daylight hours, or at dusk for owls
Ideally release in summer or autumn. Any time of year if only in captivity for short period
Preferably don’t release in Spring, could cause territorial problems
Migratory species must be released when its species is present in Ireland


HARD RELEASE (direct release)

Hard release technique
The bird is simply allowed to exit the transport container with no further care or feed provision

Hard release candidates
Hard release technique suitable if bird rescued as an adult, in captivity for short period of time, and if to be released where originally found
Ideally return to exact location animal was rescued
Open carrying cage and let animal leave in its own time
Release from transport container at dawn and leave


SOFT RELEASE (gentle or gradual release)

Soft release technique
Soft release aims to slowly reintroduce the bird to the wild while still in a comfort zone e.g. cage it was reared in, and allow the bird to leave the cage once confident and independent
The bird is fed in the cage at the release site, compensating for the difficulties of newly released birds finding food and shelter in a new environment

Soft release candidates
Release suitable for hand reared birds
Also suitable for adult birds that have been in care for a long period of time, or that cannot be released back to where they were found and so have to establish a new territory

Temporary cage placed in release location
Sheltered sleeping area placed within caged area, food and water provided daily, in the enclosure, for 2-4 weeks
Bird provided with only natural foods it will come across in the wild
Cage opened and left in-situ for bird to come and go until it feels confident enough not to return
Food provided, decreasing in quantity, until the bird no longer returns
Soft release may take days -weeks
For birds of prey there are many ‘hacking back’ techniques used. Contact specialist organisation/individual for information


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“The Minister may grant a licence to a person to have in possession, for a reasonable period of time —

  • an injured or disabled protected wild animal, or
  • one or more than one dependant young of a protected wild animal which is orphaned, with the intention of tending and later releasing such animal or young back into the wild when and only when such animal or young, as the case may be, is no longer injured, disabled or dependant, or
  • to retain possession of a protected wild animal, that for reasons of disability or for other reasons deemed reasonable by the Minister, would, if released, be unlikely to survive unaided in the wild.”

*Compulsory licence details at end of document*

Let us not waste time complaining about the excessive bureaucratic legislation covering wildlife today. The intent was to provide protection for wildlife and the data is valuable.

If we don’t want to be legislated upon, or don’t like current legislation, we must offer legislative solutions. Apply for your licences but also email  your ideas for a more practicable solution for ‘policing wildlife rehabilitation’ in Ireland, to info@irishwildlifematters.ie

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has
.”  (Margaret Mead)



Irish Wildlife Act 1976 and Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 - protected species
Berne Convention, Appendix 2 – requires strict protection
EU Habitats Directive, Annex 4
Irish Red Data book – least concern
Wildlife (N.I.) Order of 1985 – protected species

Carrion crows and magpies can be killed in a specified manor
The Minister may give licences to hunt protected wild birds of a specified species to facilitate the training of gun dogs for hunting
The Minister may grant licences for the hunting of pen-reared birds:

  • pen reared hen pheasants (35% of the stock released) 1st Nov to 15th Feb
  • pen reared partridge 1st Sept to 31st Jan

Licences to take birds of prey from the wild are facilitated as long as demand does not pose any conservation threat to the status of the species
The Minister may grant a licence to capture or kill for educational, scientific or other purposes
Within Leinster, and with a permit from the NPWS, birds listed below can be killed if they cause serious damage to crops, livestock, fauna or represent a threat to public health..

  • Hooded crow, magpie, rook, jackdaw, woodpigeon, feral pigeon, and collared dove

Birds listed below can be killed if they represent a threat to air safety.. (birds species specified below can change every 4mths)

  • Common, herring, lesser black-backed, greater black-backed and black-headed gull, rook, jackdaw, magpie, starling, lapwing, golden plover, hooded crow, collared dove, wood and feral pigeon

Closed season for wild bird killing - 1 March - 31 July
Wild birds and their nests and eggs are protected
Shooting of wildlife for pleasure or sport is not permitted in National Parks or Nature Reserves owned by the State
The peregrine is listed on Annex I to the Council Directive of 2nd April 1979 and the "Birds Directive", the amount of licences is limited to five per annum

Rescue and Rehabilitation
Due to their status as a protected species, a licence MUST be applied for to the NPWS ‘to possess/retain an injured or disabled wild bird’

Subject to the conditions set out in the licence provided for the possession/retention of a wild bird/animal
(N.I) Non-native species of bird must not be released into the wild unless you obtain a licence

Report suspicious activities or equipment to the NPWS Conservation Ranger (see CONTACTS page)





Red Grouse

1 September to 30 September

Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler, Scaup, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Goldeneye, Golden Plover, Snipe, Jack Snipe.

1 September to 31 January

Red-Legged Partridge

1 November to 31 January

Cock Pheasant, Woodcock

1 November to 31 January


1 November to 30 November

Canada Geese (Countrywide)
The counties of Cavan (exclusive of the townlands of Eonish Island, Rinn, Deramfield) and Leitrim (exclusive of the River Shannon)

Greylag Geese (Countrywide)
Lady’s Island Lake, Co. Wexford and Gearagh East, Gearagh West in Co. Cork only

1 September to 15 October

16 October to 31 January

1 September to 15 October


16 October to 31 January


1 November to 31 January

Ruddy Duck

1 September to 31 January


* For licence application form for the possession/ retention of a wild animal - click HERE

Post to the address below OR email back to wildlifelicence@ahg.gov.ie

Wildlife Licensing Unit,
National Parks and Wildlife Service,
Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht,
7 Ely Place,
Dublin 2

Tel:  (01) 888 3242

This legislation section is not intended to cover all aspect of legislation associated with this particular wildlife species, in all instances, the current legislation and appropriate statutory bodies should be consulted


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For more species specific conditions see:

Corvids (Crows)
Game birds
Garden birds
Birds of prey


  • Aspergillosis – fungal infection

Clinical signs – weight loss, emaciation, wheezing, open mouthed breathing, fluffed up, moist rales
Diagnostics – haematology may suggest chronic infection, radiography may show opacities in the airsacs, fungal plaques seen on endoscopy
Treatment –itraconazole +/- nebulisation with clotrimazole or F10 disinfectant
Comments - mainly water birds, sea birds, birds of prey, pigeons.
Clinical signs often appear too late so prophylactic treatment of high risk species recommended.
Often triggered by stress of captivity, especially when debilitated.
NEVER use straw or hay for bedding.

  • Avian pox – viral infection

Clinical signs –commonly dry form; brown scabbing lesions on beak, feet, wing edges or cere (fleshy swelling found on the beaks of certain birds, contains the nares)
Diagnostics – normally suspected on clinical signs
Treatment – isolation as contagious, self limiting
Comments - mainly birds of prey, pigeons and passerines (perching / song birds)

  • Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) - calcium, phosphorus and vit D imbalance

Clinical signs – bent or curved long bones, soft beak
Treatment – calcium supplement tablets. Sunshine is essential for birds to metabolise calcium and phosphorus, ultraviolet light can be used for young collared doves (PowerSun UV)
Comments – mainly pigeons, birds of prey, corvids and collared doves. Often disease progressed too far to be reversed when found in adult birds



  • Fishing tackle

Clinical signs – halitosis, emaciation, occasionally nylon line protruding
Diagnostics – clinical signs, radiograph
Treatment –Do not cut any protruding fishing line, it may be needed for extraction
X-ray to locate hook, if no hook check for any entanglement in tongue. Gavage 20ml liquid paraffin into oesophagus and gently pull line out
If hook found on x-ray, mark spot on length of stomach tubing or urinary catheter, lubricate tube and feed it down over the protruding fishing line until it snags on the hook, gently push out the snagged hook then, keeping the line taut inside the tube, carefully withdraw both line and tube. Procedure to be done under anaesthetic and ideally integrity of oesophagus should be assessed afterwards with endoscope.
Alternatively hook can be surgically removed by entering the side of the oesophagus. Note major jugular vein. Hook can sometimes be located by strong magnet
Comments – mainly water birds, swans, ducks, geese

swan with fishing tackle fishing hook xray
© Alison Charles
© Becki Lawson
  • Head Injuries

Clinical signs – unconscious, immediate non response to stimuli, loss of corneal reflex, dilated pupils, muscle weakness
Diagnostics –perform full opthalmological exam, skull xray
Treatment – General Head Trauma in Birds Procedure;
Check airway, breathing, circulation
If unconscious, vital to provide oxygen, either intubate, or provide via mask or oxygen chamber
Keep bird immobilised, do not manipulate neck
Check head for haemorrhage/CSF leakage
Treat as for shock
Monitor respiratory pattern
Comments – mainly sparrowhawks, kingfishers, and pheasants

  • Shot wounds

Clinical signs – fractures, wounds
Diagnostics – radiography
Treatment – treat as per normal fracture or wound but will need cleaning out as often feathers or debris will be carried into the wound
Comments – affects all bird species. Report to NPWS if seems suspicious




  • Mites

Clinical signs – easily visible running around on bird
Treatment – topical ivermectin
Comments – mainly corvids

  • Biting flies – lice flies (hippoboscids)

Clinical signs – often noticed when found on handler’s face/arms. Flat with sucker like feet, scuttle sideways at speed!
Treatment – insecticide powder - exelpet
Comments – treatment not necessary unless causing host irritation or anaemia

  • Maggots – ‘fly strike’ miasis

Clinical signs – easily visible
Treatment – topical ivermectin
Comments – mainly problem for debilitated birds



  • Gapeworm – Syngamus trachea nematode worm

Clinical signs – open mouthed breathing, respiratory distress, moist rales from the glottis, visual identification of the worm in the opening of the trachea
Diagnostics –faecal exam for ova
Treatment – Fenbendazole or thiabendazole
Comments – affects all birds. Infects via intermediate host; slug, snail, beetle or earthworm

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  • Thiamine deficiency – enzyme thiaminase in whitefish breaks down essential enzyme thiamine

Clinical signs – lethargy, weakness, anorexia, constricted pupils then convulsions and death
Diagnosis – history; in captivity, fed white fish e.g. sprat, whitebait, given no vit supplements
Treatment – daily thiamine (vitamin B1) supplement e.g. Aquavits or Fish Eaters’ Tablets
Comments –affects fish-eating birds e.g. kingfishers, grebes

  • Canker / Frounce / Trichomoniasis – caused by a flagellate protozoan; Trichomonas gallinae

Clinical signs – Dark yellow to brown caseous lesions in the throat, crop, oesophagus and roof of the mouth, upper respiratory tract and eye orbits. Thick saliva, fetid smell, emaciation, respiratory distress
Diagnosis – clinical signs, fresh wet smear of lesion reveals protozoa when examined microscopically
Treatment – fluid therapy, gavage with liquid nutrition and treat with carnidazole
Comments – mainly collared doves, pigeons and birds of prey. Transmitted by direct contact.
Pigeons and collared doves should be treated prophylactically on admission

Trichomoniasis Trichomoniasis gone
© Cynthia Roberts & Ed Minvielle
© Cynthia Roberts
  • Lead poisoning – ingestion of lead fishing weights or shotgun pellets for grit

Clinical signs – emaciation, anaemia, muscle weakness, bright green droppings ‘limber neck’ in swans – lower part of the swan’s neck lies across its back, and the gizzard muscle stops working resulting in unprocessed food collecting in the oesophagus and proventriculus
Diagnostics – blood analysis, but healthy swans can have naturally high lead readings. Xray of gizzard and clinical signs
Treatment –5 days on, 5 days off course of calcium edta and then recheck blood lead levels (Joanna Hedley) Encourage extra intake of grit to evacuate metals
Comments – mainly water birds, sometimes birds of prey, covids and pigeons. Bird can die without treatment.
Surgery not to be undertaken lightly, ONLY if large plumb weight or sinker lodged in gizzard. Remove via proventriculus
Lead shot or pellets elsewhere in bird’s body not considered a lead poisoning hazard

  • Botulism –due to bacteria Clostridium botulinum  which produces toxin

Clinical signs – flaccid paralysis of legs, excessive salivation, shallow irregular heartbeat and depressed breathing. Possibly low temp, 36.5–37.5˚C, and projectile non smelly diarrhoea
Diagnostics – history; air temp over 23˚C, low water levels
Treatment – fluids. Gavage with antitoxin (see Adult Birds Drugs & Dosages table). After 24hrs start to gavage with liquid food e.g. Poly-Aid or Complan. Continue until the bird is feeding for itself again
Comments – mainly water birds and gulls. Botulism very toxic, possibly only 50% success rate




  • Blind bird
  • Swan, goose, duck or bird of prey needing leg amputation
  • No quality of life when recovered


  • Pentobarbitone sodium


  • Ideally intravenously
  • General anaesthetic then intracardiac or intrahepatic injection

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Bat Anatomy



inguinal area or loose skin over keel bone. Be aware of birds’ extensive air sac system


pectoral muscles either side of keel bone, or thigh muscle. 25-29G needle


proximal end of ulnar/tibiotarsus, under GA unless extremely collapsed, IO catheter/20G needle. Medial aspect of olecranon, or distally through tibial crest, or below dorsal edge of distal ulnar condoyle


Do not use. Danger of injecting into airsacs


right jugular vein, or cutaneous ulnar (brachial; wing) vein, or medial metatarsal (leg) vein in large species


in food, pushed into the oesophagus with pill pusher or cotton bud, crop feeding, gavage (see Baby Bird Rehabilitators page for technique)

Blood sampling
Use IV routes as above
Collect from needle hub directly into blood tube
Only take less than 10% of total blood volume. Blood volume is normally 10% of the bird’s bodyweight i.e. take no more than 0.7mls from a 100g bird
Sick birds may be dehydrated with lower blood volume, and need to allow for any haematoma formation too

swan blood sampling bird of prey injection
© Becki Lawson
© Hawk Conservancy Trust



Temperature (°C)

37.7 - 43.5°C

Pulse rate (beats per minute)

100’s to 1000’s

Respiratory rate  (breaths per minute)

10’s to 100’s

Normal temp range 37.7 - 43.5°C, but species variation and ability to thermoregulate
e.g. duck/gull 40°C, seabirds 39 - 41°C

Birds thermoregulate so during inactivity or in response to food shortage some species are able to maintain a lower body temperature; regulated hypothermia or “torpor”
E.g. swifts may drop up to 10°C for several hours overnight or for days during extremely bad weather

Pulse rate
Again large species variation
e.g. resting heartbeat rates for crow 345, sparrow 460 beats per minute
Heart rates of small birds can easily rise above 1000 beats per minute during flight

Respiratory rate

Weight of bird (g)

Breaths per min

16-27 (e.g. finch)












1000 (e.g. buzzard 800g-1kg)



First read species specific section for bird you have under examination
In general:
Care – sharp beaks, strong wings, sharp talons
Wear protective goggles for birds with long sharp beaks e.g. heron
Two people may be needed for safe handling of large birds
Restrain talons and beware of beak with birds of prey – protect bird from accidently harming itself
Essential not to damage feathers of birds of prey
Can be wrapped in towel or cloth during examination for feather protection
Cover bird’s head with light cloth but monitor regularly for stress
Examine quietly in darkened room to reduce stress
Handling is very stressful for birds, especially small birds; monitor respiration closely
Be firm but gentle, care not to restrict ribcage movement
Examine legs and wings one at a time
If bird becomes too stressed, starts open mouthed breathing, place in warm, quiet box to recover
If prolonged examination necessary, consider general anaesthesia

Pigeon wing examination Robin Examination Raptor examination
© Craig Stray
© Colin Seddon
© Colin Seddon
swan handling buzzard  handling heron restraint
© Colin Seddon
© Becki Lawson
© East Sussex Wildlife Rescue

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  • Weigh
  • Warm up
  • Fluids
  • Drugs

Ideally stabilise non life-threatening injuries then LEAVE BIRD ALONE FOR 2-4 HOURS to stabilise before attempting further treatment

Use digital platform scales registering in intervals of 1g or less

On arrival, maintain bird in temperature that lies within its thermoneutral range:

Bird Weight (g)

Thermoneutral range (˚C)







Sick/injured/cat attack
                Antibiotics (If baby bird attacked by cat, give double adult amoxycillin dose)
                Begin removal immediately, leave to rest after 30mins
Collision/head injury
                Antibiotics – Long acting amoxycillin
                Carnidazole for trichomoniasis
Collared Dove
                Carnidazole for trichomoniasis
Birds of prey



IV bolus1% bodyweight, slowly
Continuous infusionideally mechanical syringe pump, giving set for large bird

  • Medial tarsal vein (for birds >100g)

Vein runs medially along length of the tarsometatarsus and over the craniomedial aspect of the intertarsal joint. 27G needle

  • Ulnar/basilica vein

Ventral aspect of the wing, crosses radius and ulna distal to the elbow, extends along the humerus. Easiest found with wing extended. Very fragile vein, usually single use vein

  • Right jugular vein

Mainly under featherless tract of skin on lateral aspect of neck directly in line with external auditory meatus. Restrain bird in dorsal recumbency, tail facing away. Occasionally a full crop or air sac obstructs visual access of the vein, difficult in pigeons and gamebirds

Fluid choice
PO – gavage with rehydration solution e.g. lectade, or either of the options below
IV, SC – Lactated Ringer’s (Hartmann’s) or isotonic 4% glucose and 0.18% saline solution

Fluid quantity
Maintenance – generally 50ml/kg/day (5% bodyweight)
Body mass differences:

  • birds with bodyweight of 10-20g, maintenance is 50% bodyweight/day
  • birds with bodyweight over 100g, maintenance is 5% bodyweight/day

On arrival, assume 10-15% dehydration. Replace over 48-72hrs, plus maintenance requirements

Gavage quantity
Rough guide for gavage administration:
1% bodyweight for 1st feed, then up to 2% for subsequent feeds

Subcutaneous quantity
Warmed fluids, 25 or 27G needle, max volume injected per site:
1% bodyweight

Bird species

Average weight

SC fluid volume/site


18 g

0.18 ml


1 kg

10 ml


1.2 kg

12 ml


intubated  heron swan anaesthetic recovery swan  Xray lapwing xray
© Becki Lawson
© Becki Lawson
© Becki Lawson
© Becki Lawson

Anaesthetic agents
Isoflurane commonly used and very effective in most species. Induction 5%, maintenance 2-4%
Medetomidine plus ketamine +/- butorphanol reversed with atipamazole for injectable anaesthesia

Monitor bird’s temperature, high metabolic rate predisposes to potential hypothermia
Maintain ambient room temperature of 20-25˚C
Warm cleaning solutions for skin prep to reduce heat loss

In bird <100g only 30mins otherwise may get hypoglycaemia
Fast only for as long as it takes for the crop to empty, usually roughly 2hrs
Raptors and large waterfowl should usually be fasted for 12 hrs
Always check crop first to ensure food is passing through

Danger for small birds, especially if fasted
Administer rehydration/glucose fluids by gavage when fully awake, until bird is eating normally again

Lateral position best, dorsal recumbency worst as more pressure on airsacs from viscera
Elevate the head

Recommended for longer procedures
Prepare to ventilate the bird as apnoea is common under anaesthetic especially in waterfowl and some diving birds and will lead rapidly to cardiac arrest


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