What to Do If You Have a Live Bird

Seabird Handling Guidelines

In some cases, a fisher may catch a seabird that is brought on board a vessel alive. In some cases, a live seabird may be released back to the sea. If the bird is severely injured, however, this may not be possible. Also, in some fisheries, regulations may require that live birds be brought back to shore. On this page is information in general on how to treat a live bird on a vessel, and some specific instructions for different gear types.

General Procedures

  • If a bird is hooked and entangled in your fishing gear, slow the vessel down or stop it. Slowly bring the bird towards the vessel. Do not pull on the leader; this could cause more damage to the bird.
  • Lift the bird up out of the water with a dipnet if available. If a dipnet is not available make sure to support the bird’s weight when you bring it aboard.
  • It is best to work in teams of two, with one person to control and handle the bird and the second person to disentangle or unhook the bird.
  • Use caution when handling because birds are strong and have sharp beaks that can bite hard. Watch your eyes and control the beak to avoid injury to yourself.
  • Be careful not to injure the wings. Fold them naturally and gently to the body to avoid injuring the bird’s bones, muscles and tendons. 
  • When handling a bird, hold the bird carefully but firmly, not allowing it to flop about or escape. However, do not crush the bird's body; just hold it sufficiently firmly that it can move about and harm itself further. Be careful not to squeeze too tightly or keep the bird's mouth or nasal openings shut too tightly or it could suffocate.
  • Do not hold the bird only by the neck or bill or wingtip. 
  • Place a covering (such as a cloth or towel) over eyes or place in a box will ensure the bird is calm.
  • Prevent the bird’s feathers from becoming soiled with oils or other products because this affects the bird’s waterproofing, body temperature control, and ability to fly.
  • If the bird has become wet, leave it in a safe enclosed space to recover until its feathers are dry.
  • Leave the bird alone; don't handle or bother it and always keep children and pets away.
  • If the bird is wearing a band or ring on its leg or a tag on the wing or any tracking or marking device, record the identifying numbers as well as the type of seabird, date, location of capture, name of vessel and seabird mitigation methods used. Report these details to authorities. It is a good idea to photograph the bird to ensure proper identification and details.

Release

Release the bird only if it is able to:

  • Hold its head erect and respond to noise and motion stimuli.
  • Breathe without noise.
  • Flap and retract both wings to normal folded position on its back.
  • Stand on both feet with toes pointed forward.

After recovered, release seabirds by first stopping the boat, then gently placing them on the sea surface. Do not throw the bird into the air! Make sure there is no fishing gear in the water and that the vessel is in neutral when you release the bird, and that the bird is clear of the vessel before motoring away.

Hooked Birds

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has produced guidelines to handling hooked seabirds. NOAA Fisheries also has a short document, and US government regulations give some good advice on how to handle hooked birds (see parts b and c).

  • A pair of strong wire or bolt cutters that can cut through your hooks is an easy tool to carry aboard in the case you catch a seabird.
  • Assess the condition of the bird and the position of the hook. If it is lightly hooked in the beak, wing, or foot, remove the hook by paring the barb with a set of strong bolt cutters. Then pull the hook out backwards. 
  • Remove any external hooks by cutting the line as close as possible to the hook, pushing the hook barb out point first, cutting off the hook barb using bolt cutters, and then removing the hook shank. Cut the fishing line as close as possible to ingested or inaccessible hooks.
  • If the hook is deep and lodged in the throat, do not make an attempt to remove it. Just cut and remove as much gear as possible using a cutting tool.