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    A Guide To Safely Catching Stray Birds For Your Animal Sanctuary Or Rescue Part I: Supplies Helpful For The Safe Capture Of Birds

    An image of a net raised in the air against a landscape at sunset. The net has medium sized meshing.
    If your animal sanctuary or rescue organization works with birds, chances are you will be called upon to help loose birds in need of rescue at times! This is not an easy task and may require some forethought and special tools, including nets. Note that the net pictured in this image is not always ideal for bird catching! To learn more about the best equipment and some methods for catching loose birds, read on! Photo by Raghavendra Saralaya on Unsplash

    This Resource Is Part Of A Series!
    This resource and its associated infographic are part of a series meant to assist you with the many considerations you may encounter when it comes to loose birds in need of rescue.
    For Part II, Planning For The Site And Strategizing Timing, click here.
    For Part III, How Bird Type And Species Can Impact Your Plans, click here.
    For Part IV, Capture And Handling, click here.

    Series Goals

    1. To learn about some of the tools you may find helpful in safely catching stray birds in need.
    2. To learn about some safety and other considerations at specific sites where stray birds are frequently found.
    3. To learn about some of the considerations related to the safe capture of specific kinds of birds.
    4. To learn about what to do once you catch a bird.


    A Note On The Term “Stray.”
    In this series, we will use the term “stray” to include any loose domesticated bird in need of assistance. Common reasons birds may be stray and in need of intervention include being dumped by humans, escaping live markets, falling off transport trucks, or being involved in transport accidents.

    Almost all farmed animal sanctuaries and animal rescues have received calls from the public for assistance when it comes to intervention for stray birds. Because domesticated birds who are loose without protection from the elements or from predation face an imminent risk of harm or death, these situations can be considered to be a true emergency for the birds involved. In such situations, quick action is essential, but you may find that members of the public are unaccustomed to handling or approaching birds. While they may want to help, they may have anxiety about it and need guidance on best assisting the birds and you! We hope this series and its associated infographics will help.

    In all cases, there are some basic considerations that you will want to observe when it comes to trying to capture loose birds and share with members of the public who are trying to help. The first and foremost considerations are to always ensure both the safety of rescuers and the safety of the birds. This resource will discuss some of the supplies that you may find helpful! 

    Every Bird Is An Individual, And Every Situation Is Different! 
    Every rescue situation is different because every bird is a unique individual. While many of these tips will work in many situations, the best place for any would-be bird rescuer to start is by being mentored by an existing organization with experience in safely catching birds and ideally, getting some training from veterinarians on safe bird handling! You can also shadow experienced rescuers and get some hands-on training in the appropriate ways to handle birds from sanctuaries or rescues in your area. Training can help you learn how to rescue birds in a way that is both safe for them and you! In addition to the information in this resource, keep in mind all of the considerations that accompany responsible rescue. If you haven’t read our resource on that subject, you can find it here!

    A Suggested “Bird Catching Kit”

    First of all, it is essential to recognize that it is doubtful that you will be able to easily capture a flighted and able-bodied bird in the daytime and in an open space, especially without some tools. Even in the most ideal circumstances when it comes to catching birds (which we will discuss more below), you may need a lot more than the sheer force of your will and your bare hands. The following is a list of resources and items you might want to procure and assemble into a “go kit” when you are called upon to help rescue a loose bird.

    • A Rescue Buddy: In virtually all cases, it is advisable to have a human friend help you catch birds. Stray birds can be found in all sorts of situations – from isolated areas in forest preserves to urban settings. (Learn more in Part II of this series!) Because the best time to catch birds is generally at dark, it is best to work in teams for rescuer safety. If you trip and injure yourself or encounter an angry neighbor, it’s always best to have a friendly backup!
    • Nets: A variety of nets in different sizes and with different handle lengths are beneficial for several different purposes. In general, it is helpful to have long-reaching nets. You can also purchase nets that telescope so that you can adjust their length for the situation. Some urban pigeon rescuers even carry smaller-sized nets that telescope in their handbags, just in case they see someone who might need help! 

    The kind of netting used in your net is also important to consider. Opt for a net with a very tight weave versus those with loose mesh. With loose netting, you run the risk of birds catching limbs, toes, or necks in gaps that can cause significant injury and make it difficult to retrieve them from the net safely. Even with fine mesh netting, toes, claws, and spurs can get caught and must be quickly released if this happens. If this causes holes in your netting, you may need to replace it. You will also want to carry a cutting tool in case you need to disentangle birds from netting quickly.

    This image shows three kinds of netting. The first image is an angry chicken next to wide mesh netting. The text next to these read "Netting with a wide mesh like this can risk birds getting limbs or necks caught!"

The second kind of netting is finer mesh, and has a neutral faced chicken next to it. The text reads "This mesh is a little safer, but can still cause potential injury!"

The third kind of netting pictured is very fine mesh netting, and has a happy faced chicken next to it. The text reads, "This is much safer, but you still need to look out for tears and holes!"
    It’s important to choose nets and netting that will minimize the risk of birds catching limbs, claws, necks, and spurs in ways that can injure them! Choose a finer mesh when possible. Check your equipment regularly for tears or holes that birds may get caught and injured in!
    • Towels And Blankets: These may be useful for toweling loose birds for safe capture if you are close enough to do so. We will discuss toweling birds more in Part IV of this series, but for now, please remember that this technique is best attempted by those with experience, as birds can be easily injured if toweled roughly or too tightly. Towels can also be helpful because being in a darkened space can help calm stressed birds, and towels can be draped over carriers to achieve this.  Towels can also be helpful for rescuers who may get wet or cold in their rescue efforts! Also, in frigid temperatures, consider bringing emergency thermal blankets for rescuers who may get wet and chilled!
    • Foldable Ladder Or Step Ladder: These can be handy when trying to access higher areas where birds have perched for the night. Keep in mind, of course, that safety comes first, and again it’s usually best to have another person around when you use a ladder and make sure you are using it on stable ground!
    • Additional Netting Material: Some rescuers have found that working in teams using drop nets, rolls of netting (like garden netting) or even the fine-meshed plastic screen material used for screen doors, can be helpful if you can successfully corner birds into a space where you can toss it over them. Again, be cautious and try and use fine mesh netting that will not trap limbs or necks, and be aware that claws and spurs can get caught in any kind of netting and must be quickly released if this happens.
    • First Aid Kit For Birds: 
      • Styptic or other products to stop bleeding
      • Bird-safe disinfectant such as diluted chlorhexidine solution (consult your veterinarian for the proper dilution.)
      • Sterile gauze and wound dressing
      • Vet wrap
      • Instant heating pads (however, always ensure that when using any kind of heating pad, it is wrapped and secured so that a bird cannot get burned.)
    • Carriers In Various Sizes: Some rescuers keep a supply of disposable cardboard carriers in their cars or collapsible carriers of different sizes so that they always have a safe way to enclose a bird on hand. Collapsible carriers can be beneficial because you never know what kind of bird you may be called upon to help. Birds vary vastly in size – a peafowl will require a much larger carrier than a chicken, so having options available quickly is very helpful.
    • Puppy Pads: These are good for temporarily lining carriers during transport, as they can serve as nonslip liners and will absorb some poop. They are not great long-term without supervision as birds can pick and scratch at them and potentially ingest bits that are not healthy for them.
    • Flashlights And Headlamps: Because capturing stray birds is best done at night (more on this below), you should always keep some flashlights on hand to help you navigate the terrain. Headlamps can be beneficial so you can keep your hands free! Some headlamps may also come with red lighting, which can help you see the birds you are trying to catch without waking them!
    • High Boots: These are good for protecting rescuers from things like brambles or a frightened bird who may be trying to defend themself. Tucking pants into taller boots is also helpful in protecting rescuers from ticks.
    • Emergency Traffic Triangles: These can be an actual lifesaver if you attempt to capture birds by a road or other trafficked area. We will discuss these more in Part II of this series.
    • Neon Traffic Safety Vests With Reflective Tape: Because bird-catching missions are often more successful at night, if you are attempting rescues in urban or highly trafficked areas, it makes sense to make yourself visible and apparent to neighbors in a non-threatening way. Wearing bright colors can also be very useful when rescuing birds in wooded areas during hunting season so you stand out and are distinctive to potential hunters. 
    This image shows a close up of a bright orange safety vest, that has reflective tape sewn onto it.
    Using neon vests with reflective tape can help rescuers in high traffic, in areas with high hunting activity, or other situations where they may be at risk!
    • Long Sleeves And Long Pants: Birds can retreat to brush and brambles when they are afraid, and long sleeves and pants can help protect rescuers from this, as well as from plants like poison ivy and oak, from tick bites, and from scratches from frightened birds.
    • Gardening Or Work Gloves: Also excellent protection for rescuers in rough terrain and handling frightened birds! One thing to keep in mind is that when handling birds (who are delicate), putting a layer between them and your skin when handling may decrease your sense of how much pressure you are putting on their bodies. Some rescuers prefer to handle most birds barehanded for this reason. However, gloves can be beneficial in handling, provided that you keep in mind that you must be extra cautious in handling them gently.
    • Insect Repellant: Tick and insect bites are always a risk when rescuing birds in wooded or grassy areas, and also mosquitos can be very much a factor, especially in waterfowl rescue.
    • A Change Of Clothes: Bird catching can involve mud, mess, and poop. A comfortable change of clothes in your bird-catching kit can be helpful.
    • First Aid Kit For Humans
      • Disinfectant
      • Antibiotic ointment
      • Sterile gauze and wipes
      • Band-Aids
      • Ice Packs
      • Hydrocortisone or another anti-itch cream

    Emergency Supplies For Your Animal Organization!
    For your reference, we have a resource available about emergency supplies for all species that you may want to consider keeping on hand! These can also be handy in rescue situations. You can find that resource here!

    The Question Of Non-Human “Helpers” In Rescue

    Some folks have found it helpful to bring an avian resident of their sanctuary along on rescues to “lure” stray birds to them. For example, when getting a call about a stray rooster, they bring a rooster in a crate who will generally call to the stray rooster. In some cases, the stray may be attracted by the call of the crated rooster and come within reach so they can be more safely and easily caught. In some cases, this can work well – birds are social animals, after all. However, there are some essential things to think about when using non-human helpers.

    HPAI Considerations
    We DO NOT recommend bringing birds off-site at the present time for any reason other than securing veterinary care due to the high risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), a serious threat to all avian species. If you are operating in an HPAI control zone, you absolutely must not transport birds outside of your sanctuary or bring birds in. The current best practice concerning new rescues of birds is a thirty-day quarantine, ideally off-site from your sanctuary and in a home without other avian residents. If you must quarantine a new rescue on site, please do so with safe and far separation from existing residents, and be sure to observe careful biosecurity measures!

    Even without the risk of HPAI, it is vital to consider the comfort and well-being of any bird you consider bringing on a rescue mission. Again, every bird is an individual. There are birds who very much enjoy outings with their human friends, and there are some who very much do not. It is unacceptable to cause discomfort or stress to one of your residents by taking them on a rescue if they are more comfortable staying home.

    What Does ‘Unacceptable’ Mean?
    At The Open Sanctuary Project, unacceptable means that we cannot condone (or condone through omission) a certain practice, standard, or policy. See a more detailed explanation here.

    Especially with the HPAI risk, quarantine procedures should be closely observed for any new rescue. This is always tricky if you bring an avian helper on a rescue unless you can bring the captured stray and the avian helper home in separate vehicles. Depending on how close the contact was between your avian helper and the stray, even without the HPAI risk, you may also need to quarantine the helper. This will help ensure the safety of your existing avian residents.

    There are alternatives to bringing avian helpers on rescues. Bird decoys can serve well to lure stray birds to safety! In one example, rescuers capturing some stray peafowl managed to catch two of the three loose birds. When it came to the third, she escaped. However, in collaboration with the community assisting in this rescue, decoy birds were set up within a nearby barn to lure the remaining peahen inside, where she was ultimately safely captured. 

    Also, consider that you can play audio calls of the bird you are trying to capture. This has worked well in many circumstances. A rescuer playing rooster calls on their phone has often helped to entice a stray rooster to approach, and it has even helped when it comes to stray peafowl and guinea fowl! If you do not have an avian resident interested in outings, it is preferable to use the calls of the birds you are trying to help or decoys versus bringing an actual bird on site.

    Please keep in mind that this practice is very different from using animal traps to catch birds. To learn more about traps and when and how to use them acceptably (and when it is unacceptable) you can check out Part II of this series!

    This image shows two turkey decoys facing each other, with some corn cob treats scattered between them. They are inside a barn on a floor, and plastic has been hung to cover windows.
    These decoys, along with a tempting treat of corn, successfully lured a stray peafowl into a barn, where she was ultimately safely captured! Consider using decoys and playing audio of bird calls instead of working with your avian residents to lure stray birds, especially with the current high HPAI risk! Photo courtesy of Farm Bird Sanctuary.


    We hope that this list of suggested supplies can help keep you, your team, and the birds you are trying to rescue safe! To learn even more about how you can safely capture stray birds, please read on to Part II: Planning For The Site And Strategizing Timing! For a quick infographic reference regarding the supplies you may need, you can find that below!


    Bird Catching Supply List by Julia Magnus

    Click Here For A Text Description Of The Infographic!
    Title: A Supply List For Catching Stray Birds

    Subheader 1: Bring A Team And Keep Track Of Each Other!
    Image: Two rescuers holding hands. One holds an animal carrier and a chicken stands in front of them.
    Bullet Points:
    -Having a team can make capturing a bird a much easier process!
    -Fully charged phones (and chargers) as well as geotracking abilities can help keep the team safe!

    Subheader 2: Safety Gear
    Image: Safety equipment which includes a bright red vest with reflective tape, traffic triangles, a hat with a headlamp, and a flashlight.
    Bullet Points:
    -Traffic Triangles
    -Reflective Neon Safety Vests
    -Flashlights & Headlamps
    -First Aid Kit & Insect Repellant
    -Warming Blankets
    -Protective Clothing (including long pants and sleeves, boots, gloves.)

    Subheader 3: Nets And Netting
    Image: A hand holds a net over a young turkey.
    Bullet Points:
    -Large nets with fine mesh netting
    -Additional nets like drop nets if necessary
    -Tools for safely cutting netting if birds become entangled

    Subheader 4: First Aid Kit For Birds
    Image: An opened first aid kit showing supplies inside.
    Bullet Points:
    -Styptic or other products to stop bleeding
    -Bird safe disinfectant
    -Sterile gauze and wound dressing
    -Vet wrap
    -Heating pads

    Subheader 5: Transport Supplies
    Image: Two differently sized animal carriers and a stack of towels.
    Bullet Points:
    -An assortment of carriers in different sizes
    -Puppy pads or towels to line carriers
    -Blankets or towels to cover carriers


    A Guide To Safely Catching Stray Birds For Your Animal Sanctuary Or Rescue Part II: Planning For The Site And Strategizing Timing

    A Guide To Safely Catching Stray Birds For Your Animal Sanctuary Or Rescue Part III: How Bird Type And Species Can Impact Your Plans

    A Guide To Safely Catching Stray Birds For Your Animal Sanctuary Or Rescue Part IV: Capture And Handling

    What Does It Mean For Each Animal Sanctuary Resident To Be An Individual? | The Open Sanctuary Project 

    The Challenges Of Responsible Rescue | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Building Your Resident Emergency Healthcare & First Aid Kit | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Establishing Safe And Effective Quarantine And Isolation Procedures For Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Advanced Topics In Resident Health: Avian Influenza | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Your Sanctuary And The Law | The Open Sanctuary Project

    HPAI Biosecurity Plan And Checklist | The Open Sanctuary Project

    What Does Unacceptable Mean At The Open Sanctuary Project? | The Open Sanctuary Project

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