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

    An image of a city alley at night, with a rooster standing under streetlights.
    Birds in need of rescue can be found in all kinds of locations, from urban settings to isolated areas in forest preserves. To learn more about how to plan ahead for different settings and how to strategize your timing best, read on!

    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 I, Supplies Helpful For The Safe Capture Of Birds, click here.
    For Part III, How Bird Type And Species Can Impact Your Plans, click here.
    For Part IV, Capture And Handling, click here.


    Remember to use the buddy system, to put safety first, and to share locations, locations, locations! Rescuers can and have been seriously hurt and even killed when attempting to rescue stray animals. As much as we all want to get animals out of harm’s way, you need to be aware of your environment when attempting a rescue and respond accordingly. In general, rescuers should try as much as possible to at least work in pairs. Three people are even better. If you absolutely MUST go on a rescue on your own, it is imperative that you check in with others regularly so that they can keep tabs on you. 

    Geotagging And Location Sharing.
    Geotagging works by tagging location coordinates when you take a photo. It can be helpful if you are talking to members of the public who are communicating with you about a stray bird they have sighted. If they can send you a photo with a geotag, it can help save you precious time locating the bird in need. Location sharing is also a beneficial tool that can work for this purpose. It also helps when it comes to tracking rescuers who are out after a bird. Especially if a single rescuer is out trying to capture a bird, having them share their location live for other rescue team members to track them is a good idea. Depending on how your organization communicates, you can use Google Maps for this, and some social media platforms (like Facebook) have “share live location” options that can work for these purposes.

    Special Considerations Around Certain Kinds Of Sites

    When safely rescuing stray birds, there are some unique considerations to specific settings that you may need to plan for. Here is a quick overview of some of the things you might want to think about in advance when it comes to particular kinds of sites and rescue situations.

    Highly Trafficked Areas

    Safety first, always! You may need to call authorities for assistance if you attempt to rescue a bird from an area with high vehicular traffic. For example, if you see a pigeon on an elevated track in an urban area or a loose bird by a highway, you should NOT attempt these kinds of rescues without assistance from authorities who are willing to help you in stopping traffic or guiding you around hazards. Third rails can and do kill humans. Outside of urban subways, train tracks are also a major risk. Sadly areas with train tracks are frequent dumping spots for birds. 

    It’s also a sad reality that many drivers do not pay attention to the road ahead, and they can easily either run into your vehicle if you are pulled over or run into you. We recommend keeping emergency traffic triangles (mentioned in Part I) in your “rescue go kit.” For guidance on how to place traffic triangles to ensure your safety, check out this resource!

    An image of a curving road. A car is pulled over to the side of the road, and three traffic triangles spread out behind it signal its location. A traffic triangle in front of it also serves as a warning. There are three baby turkeys running loose, and a rescuer wearing a neon vest with reflective tape shooing them quickly from the road with a net. Behind him, another rescuer, also wearing a neon vest with reflective tape also holds a net.
    Pull off the road as much as possible when trying to rescue birds near a road, and put on your hazard lights. Emergency traffic triangles can be very helpful in making sure you and your vehicle are visible to passing traffic. Bright-colored vests with reflective tape are also helpful in these situations! Note also one rescuer in this situation is pictured as running after birds. Chasing birds is not the best practice UNLESS you are rapidly trying to move birds from highly trafficked or other dangerous areas. More on this below!

    Urban And Highly Populated Areas

    Because many bird rescues are most successfully attempted at night, you should take special precautions in highly populated areas. If you need to go onto private property, ALWAYS ask for permission! Also, if you are attempting a rescue in an area like this, it is extremely helpful to introduce yourself to neighbors before you attempt the rescue. For example, if you have identified where the bird in question is roosting at night during day reconnaissance, you can leave notes in mailboxes with your organization’s card or information and with contact information for the rescuer running the lead on the situation, as well as a brief explanation of what you are trying to do.

    Rescuers who worked without making their presence known have encountered situations where they were perceived as potential threats, so trying to give a neighborhood a heads-up as much as possible is very important to avoid conflict or stress. Here again, the neon vests with reflective tape can come in handy so you don’t look like you’re sneaking around! Having official cards for your organization is also helpful! Another added bonus of reaching out to neighbors before attempting a rescue is that you may find folks who are either willing to help you or are willing to support your mission once they learn what you do!

    In the background there are closely situated houses. In the foreground, there is an image of a person wearing bright colored work clothes holding a rooster. The person is holding up a card that reads, "Hi! My name is Frank, and I'm here to help rescue a bird. Do you want to help?"
    If you are doing a rescue in a highly populated area, make neighbors aware of what you are doing, especially if you are working at night. Always ask permission to enter private property, and try to do this during the day before you start working at night. Some rescuers have been pleasantly surprised when neighbors get involved in helping, and you might also get some new supporters who appreciate your work!

    When You Encounter Community Resistance.
    On occasion, rescuers may encounter community members who may either enjoy the presence of stray birds as a novelty, or think that birds in need of rescue should be “left alone so that nature can take its course.” In such cases, you can try and educate folks about the threats that stray birds face from predation, from traffic, and from ill-intentioned humans. You can also tell them about your sanctuary or rescue, and that you will be providing a safe forever home, and perhaps show them pictures. In cases where community members are particularly attached, you can offer them a chance to say goodbye to the bird after capture if possible, or possibly a chance to visit them in their new sanctuary home! These steps can go a long way to easing any community resistance against the rescue of birds in need. Working with your local shelters can also be helpful in these circumstances, as the collaboration and affiliation can help ease worries about your intentions and legitimacy as an organization. Working with shelters and other animal control authorities can be helpful in circumstances where you encounter an outright refusal to allow you to rescue a bird. In such cases, you must be especially cautious to never encroach on private property, and you may need to suspend your rescue if it is unsafe for rescuers. Depending on your jurisdiction, animal control authorities may be legally able and willing to assist in intervention in such cases.

    Forest Preserves And Other Public Natural Areas

    Sadly, birds are often dumped in forest preserves. Most typically, they are unwanted, dumped roosters. Forest preserves and parks are lovely spaces, but it is always good for rescuers to work in teams in these contexts. Aside from the potential of getting lost, there can be other risks, especially at night. If a single rescuer goes into a preserve in the evening to find a bird, it’s essential for them to share their location (as described in the text box above). 

    Be Aware Of Hunting Season!
    Rescuers are at special risk when it comes to hunting season. Even in natural areas in which hunting is prohibited, you may still encounter hunters. Wearing bright orange is critical during this time, but even this may not always ensure rescuer safety. Please assess any rescue in a setting where hunting occurs very carefully, and make sure to prioritize rescuer safety.

    Also, consider following up with the staff administering these public areas when you find a dumped bird. This can be a helpful way to make them aware of dumping issues. In some cases, after consulting with rescuers about areas with chronic bird dumping, forest preserve staff or park district staff have agreed to implement signage or even install trail cameras to help deter further dumping. 

    Graveyards are another area in which all of the above considerations apply. Sadly, graveyards are also public spaces where birds are dumped or abused. To show sensitivity to the nature of this kind of space, you should contact graveyard staff before engaging in rescue activities there. They may have special requests for how you conduct your rescue work and may be interested in learning more to prevent future dumping or abuse on their grounds.

    Keep in mind another thing to be aware of in the context of forest preserves specifically: boundaries between public and private land are not always clearly marked. Rescuers using geotracking may be able to gauge this better and may avoid issues with accidentally trespassing on private land. 

    A Note On Trespassing And Purple Paint! 
    It’s not always clear where one property line begins and another ends. There aren’t always fences or clear markers or signs, and some folks are very sensitive about trespassers, so it is essential that you are careful about this as much as possible. One less commonly known sign with regards to property boundaries is marking certain natural markers with purple paint. Purple was chosen as a color that is generally visible to colorblind folks. This method has been adopted by multiple states (though not all) by landowners (and in some cases by state statute!) who wish to identify their property as off-limits to hunters and trespassers. They mark their property with purple paint on natural features like trees, stumps, and rocks. If you see purple paint, step away. Do not go onto property marked in this way without the explicit permission of the property owner. States where this practice is commonly used include (but are not limited to) Kansas, Arizona, Montana, Arkansas, Idaho, Florida, Maine, North Carolina, Missouri, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

    In this image, a large white turkey hides behind grass and a tree, which has a band of purple paint on its trunk. A rescuer holding a net stands in front of it and is on their cell phone, saying "Hello, may I have permission to catch a stray bird on your property?"
    If you see purple paint in an area where you are trying to capture birds, stop! Make sure you have the permission of the property owner before proceeding.

    Rescues Involving Water

    When water is involved, it is imperative to have multiple team members on hand, especially in cold weather. It’s also imperative to keep heating pads, warming blankets, and other warming agents on hand. Waterfowl rescue can be particularly complicated because even if a bird in need is disabled to a point that they cannot fly, they can still often swim – sometimes into the middle of a pond where you may not be able to reach them! Therefore you may need additional tools for this kind of rescue, including small watercraft like kayaks or waders people can wear to navigate shallow areas.

    It is critically important to ensure that anyone using waders or any kind of watercraft to capture stray waterfowl in need of rescue is experienced in their use. Waders, and even high rubber boots, can become flooded, which can cause a drowning risk for rescuers, even in shallow water or in streams. Small watercraft can be flipped or flooded by those inexperienced in their use. In cold temperatures, being wet and cold causes hypothermia quickly. And, of course, in situations where you are working around ice over water, you always need to be aware of the risk of ice breaking under rescuers. Outside community help, especially from those who have watercraft and know how to use them, can become instrumental in waterfowl rescues so that rescuers keep themselves safe. 

    Also, consider the cleanliness of the water involved. After one rescue of a disabled duckling from a retention pond, rescuers had to discard their clothing because no cleaning could remove the smell from the pond. If you have entered water potentially contaminated with bacteria or other toxins, it may be your best bet to discard your clothing and to make sure that you take a thorough shower as soon as possible to remove any traces of contaminants from your skin. If you have incurred cuts or other open injuries in the rescue process, it’s crucial to clean and disinfect those as quickly as possible after you have gotten out of the water. For more specifics on questions of waterfowl rescue, read on to Part III of this series, How Bird Type And Species Can Impact Your Plans.

    Timing Your Capture Of Stray Birds

    Now that we have considered some safety considerations about specific sites where you might need to capture a stray bird, let’s think about strategizing your timing. In virtually all situations involving bird rescue, your best chance at capture with the least trauma to the bird and the rescuer is when it is dark. This may mean before dawn or just after dusk. Birds generally do not see well at night, and to protect themselves from predation, they either perch in trees out of reach of predators or, if they are ground birds like quails, they may sleep in groups just slightly off of the ground, such as in a bush. This is the best time to catch them quickly with the least amount of trauma. 

    During the day, as prey animals, birds have a heightened sense of anyone trying to chase or capture them. If you’d like to know more about birds’ heightened visual senses (and other senses), you can check out our resource on dismantling rooster stigma, which includes an in-depth discussion on the senses of chickens. Generally, birds do NOT respond well to being chased by humans. Chasing stray birds can often make them even more afraid of humans trying to help them, making it much harder to catch them. Conveying the importance of not chasing birds is one way you can help members of the public understand how to help, not hinder, the rescue of a stray bird.

    All of this being said, if you have received a report from a member of the public about a stray domesticated bird in need of rescue, your first question should be: “Is the bird at imminent risk of harm from traffic or other humans?” If so, your optimal choice to capture the bird in the dark may not be an option. In such cases you may need to move immediately, regardless of the time of day to secure the safety of the bird in question. While in general it is best not to chase birds, if a bird is at imminent risk of harm, in this context, it is best to shoo them away from areas where they face high risk as soon as possible. Sometimes this may involve quickly shooing them away from roads or other high-hazard areas.

    Chasing birds during daylight rarely ends well unless you have identified or created a safe enclosed place to shoo them into where capture may be safer – read on to learn more about this! In general, chasing a dumped or stray bird will only cause them more stress and potential harm, and it’s not unlikely that other humans have already chased and traumatized them. Adding to their fear of humans needlessly is unnecessary and unhelpful. Instead, if a bird is in a (relatively) safe location, you (or other interested and trusted community members) can safely keep an eye on them from a distance to identify where they may choose to perch for the evening. At that point, you and your team can develop an appropriate capture strategy based on where the bird has safely placed themself.

    Strategizing The Best Site And Timing For Capture

    Again, as stated above, the best possible way to catch a bird without inflicting more trauma upon them is to quickly catch them once they are asleep and perching. However, this may not always be a possibility. For example, sometimes birds can choose high-perching areas that may be entirely inaccessible to rescuers, especially if they are capable of high flying. We’ll discuss some options for this possibility further below (and in Part III), but sometimes there is no way to reach a high-perching bird. So how can you develop an alternate plan? One possibility is seeing if there are ways you can safely “herd” birds into safer, ideally enclosed areas before they perch.

    For example, if you are dealing with stray birds in a rural area who have been sighted near a barn, you may have the best luck in capturing them if you can lure or gently herd them into the barn and then wait for them to perch and fall asleep in that enclosed area. Before attempting the capture of enclosed birds, you should always cover any windows in the enclosure. Panicked birds may see the window as an escape opportunity and fly right through them or injure themselves trying to do so.

    In an urban area, stray birds may perch on or under apartment decks or balconies. Identifying perching spots is very important in urban settings so you can get the appropriate permissions to access them and strategize. If a well-flighted bird is known to perch under a deck, you may be able to develop a plan to quietly encircle the area where they are perched once they are asleep with netting so that there is an “impromptu enclosure” that you can work within. Alternatively, if there is an alley or gangway between buildings in the area that you can gently herd them into, you may be able to capture them by having rescuers approach with nets and netting from either end of the alley or gangway. 

    Another option is to talk to neighbors in the area and ask them if they are willing to let you have access to their garage to herd birds into. Neighbors are often interested in these rescues and may be willing to help in this way! Keep in mind again that if you enclose a bird in a garage with windows, you will want to securely cover the windows before going in for the catch.

    Be Compassionately Cognizant Of Would Be Helpers’ Limitations.
    Keep in mind that you may want to exercise caution when it comes to employing inexperienced neighbors in capture. Even with the best of intentions, they may inadvertently do things like chase birds, or scare birds in a manner that makes capture much more difficult. Simple tasks that neighbors can do that can help without potentially scaring off the bird include: keeping a lookout to observe bird movements, holding lights or other objects like carriers and towels while capture efforts are taking place, or using towels or screening to serve as a visual barrier while you gently guide birds. If they have children who are interested in the rescue you can kindly ask them to keep the children at a distance. While it’s wonderful to share compassionate knowledge with children, during a rescue is not always an appropriate time, as children’s quick and erratic movements can startle birds. If it is safe and appropriate, after capture and securing a bird, you can allow children to observe them from within their carrier, and potentially send video updates and follow up information to neighborhood families.

    If you can’t catch the bird at night and you can’t find an enclosed area, even a wall or a fence may prove helpful sometimes. In one case, rescuers caught a very flighty game hen by using a fence in the daytime when she was found in a yard. After asking the property owner for permission to enter the yard, one rescuer lured her near the fence corner with treats. To deter her from flying over the fence and escaping, another rescuer stood on the other side and gently waved their net, while the rescuer nearest to the hen quietly offered the treats and then netted her.

    A rescuer holding a net and sprinkling treats is tempting a hen, standing in front of a fence. Behind the fence, another rescuer is standing and gently waving another net to dissuade the bird from flying over the fence.
    If you can lure a flighty bird near a fence or wall with treats, one way to deter them from flying and escaping is by having another rescuer gently wave their net on the other side. This and the offer of treats may sufficiently distract a bird so that you can quickly net them.

    A Note On Using Traps: Don’t Do It Unless Traps Are Monitored At All Times!
    Using traps is generally ineffective when capturing birds and can be very harmful. If you use traditional traps like spring-loaded ones and you leave them unattended in the hopes that the sought-after bird enters, you put the bird at significant risk of harm from predators, from ill-intentioned humans, and from the elements. Furthermore, you may catch wildlife instead of the bird you are trying to catch, and you could cause them significant trauma. Therefore, we believe that using traps in this way is unacceptable. The only acceptable use of a trap is if you or other rescuers are on site when they are rigged and remain on-site until you catch the bird and immediately remove and secure them from the trap. The only effective trap for this use is a drop trap, pictured below.

    A cat is investigating a rigged drop trap, which is a rectangular grated cage propped up and tied to a string. There are treats under the drop trap, and outside of the image rescuers are holding a string attached to the string propping the trap, so they can pull it and drop the trap onto the cat once they venture fully inside of it.
    Using traps for birds is generally unacceptable unless rescuers are constantly on site with the trap and monitoring it. The best way to do this is using a drop trap, which is sometimes used to capture stray cats. With this kind of trap, a rescuer must be on-site monitoring constantly so that they can pull the string attached to drop the trap onto the animal once they are securely inside. Be patient in using these traps – a drop trap falling onto a bird can cause harm or scare them away from it permanently, so only pull the string to drop it when the bird is securely inside, and remove and secure the bird in a carrier as soon as possible.

    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.

    If you can’t find a way to safely enclose birds for capture, an alternative to the use of traps is making a DIY enclosure. In one instance, a team of rescuers trying to capture a flock of guinea fowl built a massive box with a wood frame and galvanized hardware screen sides. They then filled it with treats and set it up so the door would prevent the birds from walking right past it. They rigged a string to the door so they could pull it shut and lay in wait. Meanwhile, another small group of rescuers calmly and quietly surrounded the flock and gently herded them towards the box, guiding them to be motivated to turn into the box instead of away from it. Once the birds had entered, the rescuers controlling the door pulled it shut and were able to secure the birds inside. The large box size, the fact that the birds could see through it, how it was positioned, and how the rescuers guided the birds helped prevent them from panicking at being cornered and fleeing the rescuers


    We hope that this discussion of how to cope with different sites you may encounter, and how to strategize timing helps to keep you, your team, and the birds you are trying to rescue safe! To learn more about how you can safely capture stray birds, please read on to Part III: How Bird Type And Species Can Impact Your Plans. For a quick infographic reference regarding site and timing considerations, you can find that below!


    Site And Timing Catching Birds Infographic by Julia Magnus

    Click Here For A Text Description Of The Infographic!
    Title: Strategizing Timing And Site When Catching Stray Birds

    Subheader: Consider Your Timing
    Image: An image of a clock indicating a time just past midnight.
    Catching birds is almost always more effective, safest, and less traumatic for the bird at dark unless there is an emergency situation, or the bird is in the imminent risk of harm.

    Subheader: Highly Trafficked Areas
    Image: An image of three tightly packed cars.
    Bullet Points:
    -Rescuers should wear neon reflective safety vests.
    -Use traffic triangles when you pull off road.
    -Contact transportation authorities as needed.

    Subheader: Urban And Highly Populated Areas
    Image: A city skyline
    Bullet Points:
    -Rescuers should communicate with the community!
    -Let neighbors know what you are doing!
    -Ask for permission to enter private property.

    Subheader: Forest Preserves And Other Natural Areas
    Image: An image of trees
    Bullet Points:
    -Communicate with administrators of the area.
    -Keep your eye out for boundaries with private property.

    Subheader: Rescues Involving Water
    Image: An image of a pond
    Bullet Points:
    -Safety first! Bring a team, and make sure those using equipment are experienced.
    -Consider the cleanliness of the water and take precautions.


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

    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

    A Starter Guide To Understanding And Working With Animal Shelters For Animal Sanctuaries | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Introduction To Rooster Behavior Part I: Dismantling Rooster Stigma | The Open Sanctuary Project

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

    How Does Geotagging Work? | GIS Geography

    Share Your Real-Time Location With Others | Google Maps Help

    How To Place Emergency Triangles On Three Different Types Of Roads | Schneider

    Where Do Quail Sleep? | Sleepy Kingdom

    Purple Paint On Posts And Trees: What It Means And What To Do If You Find It | (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Non-Compassionate Source?
    If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

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