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The essential skill for quality bird care

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

When I was working as a small animal veterinarian I would occasionally have a bird case – a sick or injured pet bird, usually a parrot! As a new and inexperienced veterinarian I didn’t know much about birds, but was willing to try. I found a Bird Vet in my local area and used to call him for advice on my cases. I recall him saying to me one time how I should take an x-ray (radiograph) of the bird and how to do it. An x-ray! How about getting it out of the cage in one piece?!! Birds are particularly flappy, bitey and sometimes ridiculously tricky to capture. Once in hand they are all beaks and wings and poufy feathers – so how to examine methodically and treat properly? I was full of questions.


Californian Quail has been wrapped in a towel to make handling a lot easier

I committed to becoming a wildlife vet


In later years - once I had committed to becoming a wildlife vet - I undertook training in a working wildlife hospital. Within the first week I was having to diagnose and treat many species of birds and had to learn fast. By the end of the second week, the very essentials started to make sense to me. The number one skill that helps you to do everything else? Handling! Good handling practice of birds makes everything so much easier. You can examine the bird, take samples, give it treatments, feed or give oral fluids, even hold it for short painless procedures, or handle it to give an anaesthetic in a way that keeps the bird (and you!) calm and safe.


Fledgling Sparrow having its wing examined

Watch those sharp bits!

There are many species of birds with varying defense weapons: some have sharp beaks, or huge talons. Believe it or not even wings can be used to beat you up, pigeons and penguins are the worst! The principles in handling all these species are the same. Control the sharp body parts first and handle birds securely and calmly. A word of warning: don’t squeeze their chests! Birds do not have a diaphragm and must move their chest wall to breathe.

So next time you are caring for a sick bird, make sure you know the handling technique for that species before you start treatment - it is amazing the difference good handling can make.


Kingfisher having the inside of its mouth examined

Written by Dr Janelle Ward

(All photos are the copyright of Wild Bird Care-NZ)

Learn Bird Care was co-founded by Dr Janelle Ward and Mandy Robertson. Learn Bird Care offer specialist online courses on wild bird rescue,1st aid and care.

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