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

    An image of a veterinary nurse securely but gently holding a rooster over his wings on a table, while a veterinarian examines him.
    Safe bird handling is best taught to you by your avian veterinarian, or by skilled and experienced bird handlers. In this photo, bird nurse Maria securely but gently holds a rescued rooster for Dr. Peter Sakas to examine safely. To learn more about safe bird handling, 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 II, Planning For The Site And Strategizing Timing, click here.
    For Part III, How Bird Type And Species Can Impact Your Plans, click here.


    This resource is Part IV in a series that is meant to assist you with the considerations you may encounter when it comes to loose birds in need of rescue, and will discuss some basic tips when it comes to safe handling and capture. We will also share some video resources so you can see how safe bird handling works in practice!

    The Moment Of Capture

    One key component to ensuring safe interactions with birds is always maintaining calm. Birds are prey animals and deeply sensitive creatures. They pick up on stress and anxiety very quickly, as well as any potential perceived threat. As noted in previous resources in this series, chasing birds is to be avoided at all possible times unless it is absolutely necessary to shoo or herd them away from areas where they may face extreme and sudden harm, such as highly trafficked areas.

    “Never Rush A Rooster, Never Hurry A Hen, Never Chase A Chicken.”

    Mary Britton Clouse, Chicken Run Rescue  

    The above quote is pertinent regarding the moment of capture, and is true of all birds! We cannot reiterate how important it is (unless there is an imminent threat) not to chase birds. When you are about to capture them, it is essential to maintain your calm and move quietly, slowly, and carefully. Nothing is more frustrating than coming very close to a capture and spooking a bird with an unnecessarily fast movement. Not only do you have to start the process of slowly following and nearing them again, but they will be extra wary of you on the second attempt. 

    Knowing in advance how to safely handle a bird is fundamental to learning to catch stray birds safely. The following two videos illustrate how to quietly and calmly approach chickens and show that a calm and quiet approach will ease the process.

    This video, part of our chicken care curriculum, shows two birds being approached and picked up by a caregiver. In the first case, gently herding the bird toward a corner eased her anxiety about being picked up. In the second case, the bird had no concern about being approached but, after being picked up, required a shift in how she was held. Reading bird body language is vital in making this experience easier for them!
    In this video, you can see human Gary holding, putting down, and picking up rooster Dermot. Gary had never held a chicken before, but it took him less than five minutes to learn this technique. First, he was told that because chickens are prey animals, fast movements trigger a response akin to a predator approaching them. Then he was told to approach Dermot slowly with open hands, and to walk him quietly towards a corner, then slowly bend over with outstretched arms and place his hands on Dermot’s shoulders. Gary was then instructed to count to five, then lift and tuck Dermot under his harm as he would a puppy or a kitten. This shows how education can help even previously untrained folks learn how to approach and handle birds safely. Video courtesy of Chicken Run Rescue.

    In cases where you are approaching a highly agitated bird that you have cornered, especially if they are large and capable of inflicting damage with their wings, beaks, or claws should they act in self-defense, you may be better off trying a different approach than trying to pick up the bird with your bare hands. One option is using a net quickly and then grasping the bird through the net. Another option is approaching with another rescuer and tossing loose netting over the bird, after which you can secure them. For a more detailed discussion of appropriate netting for capturing birds, you can check that out in Part I of this series! Finally, if you have the skills to do it, toweling is another choice.

    Toweling Must Be Done With Extreme Caution And Care! 
    Toweling a bird is a skill that must be learned. If done correctly, it is a great technique to avoid harm to both the bird being toweled, and the rescuer. However, if done improperly, toweling can cause harm to a bird if an overzealous rescuer exerts too much pressure on them. Birds do not have a functional diaphragm and rely on some degree of movement of the sternum and rib cage to breathe properly. Therefore, holding a bird too tightly, or otherwise restricting this movement, can suffocate the bird. So it’s imperative to work on learning this skill from someone with experience in lower-stress situations than rescues so that when you need to do it in an emergency situation, you can do it with confidence and with the least risk of injury to the bird. Toweling is much harder in a rescue situation if a bird is already startled and on alert. As prey animals, birds generally dislike being approached from behind and above, which they associate with the threat of a predator, so perfecting your toweling skills is best done in a calmer setting before you attempt it in rescue.

    Whatever method you choose to use, once you have captured the bird, securing their wings against their body is critical to avoid injury to both you and to them, keeping in mind again that the level of pressure you use should be carefully controlled to avoid restricting the bird’s ability to breathe. 

    After A Successful Capture: What Next?

    If you have used netting, disentangle the bird as soon as possible, although you may want to wait until you are as near as possible to your carrier so you don’t accidentally slip and release the bird and have to start over again. If at all possible, transfer is most safely done in an enclosed space. Even moving into a vehicle before transferring into a carrier can help prevent escape! If a bird has become very tangled, you may need to cut your netting to release them fast. Then, as quickly as possible, secure the bird inside an appropriate carrier, which is lined in a way to provide a non-slip surface for the bird. Cover the carrier to give the bird a darkened space in which to calm down. Securing birds in carriers as quickly as possible is critical for both bird and rescuer safety.

    In this video, a large breed rooster was captured during the day after having been dumped in a forest preserve. Rescuers opted for a day rescue due to the cold temperatures and his proximity to a road with heavy traffic. After being netted (note the use of fine mesh netting!) he is lifted, and his rescuer detangles him from the net. He was safely secured in a carrier shortly after that and brought to the vet immediately. Video courtesy of Lucy Abramsom.

    Your next move should be to bring the bird to your veterinarian as soon as possible. It is also good to give your veterinarian a heads up that you may have a new stray coming in so they are prepared. Keep in mind that veterinarians may have protocols in place for birds who have been outdoors and may have been exposed to HPAI, and it’s essential to respect these. Remember, establishing and maintaining a good relationship with your veterinarian is critical to providing ongoing responsible care to your residents and new rescues!

    If you cannot immediately get the bird to the veterinarian, once you have them in a safe and secure space indoors you can conduct an intake evaluation to get some more information that you can provide to your veterinarian when they are able to see the bird. We have a resource on intake evaluations that you can find here! We also have a intake record form that you can download to help memorialize all relevant information for your veterinarian that you can access here.

    As mentioned in Part I of this series, with the current risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza, it is optimal to quarantine rescues off-site, ideally in a home without other birds. However, if you do not have this option, please make sure that you safely observe biosecurity measures to protect your existing residents! 


    Catching stray birds is important due to the risks they face from predation, the elements, and other human activities. However, rescue must be carefully planned and undertaken, with an eye on safety for both the rescuer and bird. If you are new to catching birds, getting hands-on bird training from veterinarians and established rescuers is the best way to ensure that you can undertake this work safely and efficiently. Conveying the safety concerns (especially the imperative that birds should not be chased unless they are at risk of imminent harm) to the public can go a very long way to ensuring an effective and harm-free capture, as well as the safety of those involved in it. We hope that this series has been helpful in giving you some guidance in this regard. The below action steps are meant as simple takeaways from this series. You can also find an infographic on capture and handling for quick reference below!

    Series Action Steps

    1. If you are interested in trying to help capture stray birds, consult with experienced rescuers and veterinarians to get hands-on training on handling first.
    2. Assemble a “go-kit” for rescue with items that can help you both secure birds safely and protect yourself and other rescuers involved.
    3. Always try and work in teams.
    4. Communicate as much as possible with the community where the stray bird is found to let them know what you are doing and possibly secure additional support.
    5. Remember that chasing birds is never a good idea unless you are trying to move them away from imminent risk of harm.
    6. When you have secured a stray bird, try and make your first stop at your veterinarian. If you cannot do this, conduct an intake evaluation and get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. 
    7. Always observe safe quarantine and biosecurity measures when it comes to new intakes.

    We are endlessly grateful to bird rescuers, advocates and caregivers for their contributions to this resource. We extend our deepest appreciation to Triangle Chicken Advocates for suggesting and reviewing this resource, and to Chicken Run Rescue, Farm Bird Sanctuary, and Chicago Roo Crew for sharing photos, videos, and experiences.


    Capture And Handling by Julia Magnus

    Click Here For A Text Description Of The Infographic!
    Title: Tips For The Capture And Handling Of Stray Birds

    Subheader: Get Expert Training In Bird Handling!
    Image: An image of a veterinarian overseeing a person kneeling to pick up a goose.
    Bullet Points:
    -Ask your veterinarian for training in how to safely handle birds.
    -Volunteer with bird rescuers and sanctuaries to get hands on experience in picking up and handling birds.

    Do Not Chase!
    Image: An image of three turkey poults running, with a person frantically chasing them, that is X’d out by a big red X.
    Bullet Points:
    -Never chase a bird unless you absolutely must in order to shoo them from a dangerous situation.
    -In attempting to move a bird from one place to another, do so by calmly walking, and gently guiding.

    Subheader: Keep Your Calm
    Image: An image of a person sitting quietly as a chicken approaches with two hearts above them.
    Bullet Points:
    -Catching all birds is easier at night to reduce trauma. Keeping calm and quiet avoids startling birds awake.
    -Birds are very sensitive and pick up on anxiety and stress. Keep voices down and movements calm and slow.

    Subheader: Handle With Care
    Image: A turkey poult above two hands gently encircling them.
    Bullet Points:
    -Stay aware of the fact that birds are delicate and handle them gently.
    -Keep carriers nearby and secure birds as quickly as possible. Cover and darken carriers.

    Subheader: Seek Vet Care ASAP!
    Image: A turkey on an examining table being checked by a veterinarian.
    Bullet Points:
    -Bring the bird to your veterinarian for assessment as soon as possible after capture.
    -Quarantine the bird and observe careful biosecurity measures.


    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 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

    How To Safely Handle A Chicken At Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Basic Chicken Care Courses | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Building And Maintaining A Good Relationship Between Your Animal Sanctuary And Veterinarians | The Open Sanctuary Project

    How To Conduct An Intake Evaluation At Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    The Open Sanctuary Project’s Sanctuary Resident Intake Record | The Open Sanctuary Project

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

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

    Practical Biosecurity Measures For Animal Sanctuaries | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Toweling Parrots | Bird Tricks  (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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