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Be Gentle When Handling Birds

By Alan Stanford, Ph.D.
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Here's a lesson for us all, including me. In the last year (2005), a couple birds died after I gave them shots. Both times I put them back in their coop too roughly.

What I should have done is realize how stressful it is to a bird to be caught. Imagine how much more terrifying it is to a bird to get a shot. This applies more to active birds than Silkies but does apply to Silkies too. I should be patient, slow, and calm when catching a bird. Hold the bird gently until she is reasonably calm. Give the shot. Hold her gently until she is reasonably calm and only then gently, slowly, and calmly release her into her coop.

This will take a lot more time but compared to killing a bird by being insensitive, the time is very well spent.

What got me thinking on this subject are the following messages to the "Groovy Little Chickens" group at Yahoo.

Date: Wed Jan 5, 2005 6:48 pm
Subject: Sudden Death of a Bird

This afternoon my helper and I were catching the 2004 peachicks to band them. Peter had a 5 month old pullet in the corner ready to drop the net over her when she fell over and started kicking and shaking. He brought her to me so I could hold her. She convulsed 2 more times and died.

The weather was cool. The peas are easy to catch so they hadn't been chased. She appeared fine when we started.

Twice I have seen chickens appear to die of heart attacks when caught, but this was a surprise.

Has any body else had this happen with their birds?

Date: Wed Jan 5, 2005 7:12 pm
Subject: Re: Sudden Death of a Bird

Yes, I have had this happen. I show birds and had just dried her bottom after she had an accident. We were at a show. I was carrying her back to her pen and she started dying right in my hands. I've also had this happen when the birds were in a stressful situation. Sorry for your loss.

Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2005 05:08:33 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Sudden Death of a Bird

I've had this happen also with young birds. Rounding up the Silver Spangled Hamburg bantam youngsters to sort into breeding pens this early fall. Caught one of the pullets and she just started kicking and died right in my hands. They're a very flighty breed anyway. These guys were about 4 months old at the time this happened. Kind of surprised me too when it happened.

I've had older birds do this, though not often. Does seem to be a stress response. If you think about how wild birds react to being caught by a predator, it's not usually the wounds that kill them, but the shock and stress.

I try to catch my birds after dark, it helps keep the stress down. But this isn't always possible. Not only can't the chickens/birds not see in the dark; I can't either. But I can't tell you how many times I have had a flashlight knocked out of my hands in the dark catching a big bird in one coop or another. Grabbing one wrong and getting flogged for my efforts.

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