GUIDELINES FOR EXTRACTORS
In terms of safety, extraction of birds is the most critical step in
banding, as it is at this stage that injuries have the greatest potential
to occur. Only those who have consistently demonstrated a very high
level of competence at extraction are permitted to extract on their
own. Know your limitations - extraction is NOT for everyone.
You need to have considerable dexterity, patience, gentleness, and
problem-solving ability to be
a safe and effective extractor. Remember, if you don't fit this
description, there are plenty of
other important ways to help too - please check the job
descriptions page for details.
Two important points to keep in mind:
1) There is no place for pride when extracting. If you aren't
making progress, or can't figure out how to get a bird out in the first
place, call for help as soon as you have doubts - you will learn through
experience in time, but the safety of each bird is paramount. Even
experienced extractors sometimes are puzzled by a bird, and the
challenge can often be solved more quickly by having another person look
at it from a different perspective. You MUST be willing to ask for
2) Approach each bird with confidence. Like other animals, birds
can sense fear. If you are overly tentative, they will tend to
struggle back, thinking that they can escape. On the contrary, if
you establish control and work confidently, you will tend to be met with
much less resistance, and the process will be much quicker.
Similarly, it is vital that you remain patient, since any agitation on
your part will be recognized and reacted to by the bird.
Every bird presents a
unique challenge. However, following the basic steps below will
usually result in a safe and efficient extraction:
1) Begin with birds that are vulnerable to getting their tongue
stuck in the net (especially thrushes, catbirds, thrashers, and
blackbirds). See tongued birds under the tips section below for
advice on extracting those that do have their tongues stuck.
2) Next, target any large birds that are
likely to escape because they aren't actually caught in the mesh.
3) Scan the nets for any birds lying close
to each other, and extract at least one of each pair to ensure that they
cannot peck each other while in the net (especially important for
larger species, or aggressive birds of any size, such as chickadees).
4) Of the remaining birds, start with those
that are likely to get more tangled as time goes on (e.g. chickadees,
wrens, catbirds, sparrows), rather than those which usually lie calmly
(e.g. kinglets, warblers, finches).
5) All other things being equal, begin at
the bottom and work your way up through the panels. This ensures
that you won't accidentally bump into lower birds while working on
higher ones, and if you have to lower the top panels to reach upper
birds, won't risk having birds lower down grab on to extra layers of
Identify from which side of the net the
You MUST take birds out from the same side of the net they entered -
determine this BEFORE you begin handling any bird. If you are
lucky and the bird is just lying in the net, the entire underparts
should be visible to you from the "correct" side of the net -
i.e. there is no mesh across the underparts and it appears to have a
"bare bum". Even
if a bird is more tangled, you should always be able to get a clear view
of the undertail coverts.
Assess situation visually before touching
Determine how the bird is caught in the net, and what can be freed
most easily. In some cases it is helpful to use the net as a tool
- GENTLY spreading it out around the bird may allow the bird to partly
(or even entirely) shake itself loose. Be prepared for the bird to
be loose, and if so, cover it quickly and firmly, but gently
with your hand (from which you can then easily slide around to secure it
with a bander's grip).
Secure the bird
As soon as possible, secure the bird to minimize its ability to
struggle against the net. Usually it is best to hold the bird in a
bander's grip as much as possible, but at times it will be necessary to
use a photographer's grip - always be sure to hold the legs together
securely with your thumb over the joint at all times to minimize any risk of leg injuries. At times you may
also find the "upside-down" bander's grip useful - same approach, but
with your palm against the breast of the bird, rather than the back.
Working with the net
Always try to work WITH the net, rather than against it. In
practical terms, this means:
1) Remember that the net traps birds first by trapping them in pockets,
and only secondarily by having birds actually get caught in the mesh.
This means that if you gently open the pocket the bird is in (from the
side it entered), the separation of the two sides of the net is often
enough to partly (or even entirely) free the bird.
2) Once you are holding a bird, pull SLIGHTLY away from the net.
It's easy to waste time in an extraction by "pushing" a bird back into
the net. Conversely, if you pull it too far away from the net, the
tension on the net will be too great to allow you to get any of it off,
and poses a threat of injury to the bird.
3) Always keep the bird in a natural position, i.e. never stretch or
bend the wings into unnatural positions, and avoid putting unnecessary
stress on the neck.
Begin with the least tangled part of the
bird, and proceed sequentially (e.g. wing-head-wing)
Always remember that the bird flew forward into the net, with wings
open, and then fell down into the net pocket. You need to reverse
the process. Often the feet will be grabbing the net, but usually
it is more efficient to free the wings and head first. Don't get
distracted by the feet!
A good way to begin is to open the pocket of
the net a bit - this is analogous to having it stretched out as it was
when the bird flew in. In the simplest cases, the bird will then
be lying there, face down (or up), with the wings partly open. Such a bird
can usually be easily "popped" out. Reach in, and gently pin it in
place, by putting your middle fingers on its back, and simultaneously
sliding your thumb under its left wing and along its body. Using
your other hand, gently push the net away from you, focusing on having
it slip off one of the wings (target whichever looks less tangled).
As soon as one wing is free, slide your index and middle fingers around
the head in a bander's grip to secure the bird more firmly, and remove
any loops of net from the head, then proceed to free the other wing.
If it is holding on to the net, pulling the bird away from the net will
often cause it to release the net on its own. If the net is not
easily coming off the wings, it may be easier to assess the situation
from the underside, where fewer feathers are likely to obstruct your
Of course, not all cases are so simple!
Some species (e.g. chickadees, blackbirds) are particularly likely to
grab the net tightly with their feet. If what they are grabbing is
pinning both wings in place, you will need to free the net from the feet
first. However, even if only one wing is loose, you should be able
to start with that, continue over the head, and off the other wing, and
leave the feet for last. If you do need to work the net off the
feet first, be sure to hold the legs securely at the joint ("knee"), as
birds' legs are delicate. For even more complex situations, see the
tips section below.
Assess the condition of the bird while
you are working
The vast majority of birds are in good health, and unaffected by being
captured in the nets. However, extractors should always be alert
for signs of undue stress or old injuries. Such birds should
either be released at the net without processing, or sent back to the
bander as a priority (with a green peg on the bag string).
Place into bag, using the bander's grip
Once the bird is free of the net, put it in a bag as soon as possible.
ALWAYS put it in using the bander's grip - birds should never be
released (even inside a small bag) from a photographer's grip, as the
risk of injury to the legs is too great. When tying the loop
around the top of the bag, hold your hand between the bird and the top
of the bag, to ensure that no part
of the bird can be caught in it. Put the clothespin (identifying
the net location) on the drawstring of the bag, never on the bag itself.
For birds that should be prioritized by the bander (e.g. juveniles or
brooding females), identify them by adding a green peg in addition to
the location peg.
Some other tips for
Always carry a wooden or (preferably) plastic toothpick (or similar tool) with you.
These can make it much quicker and easier to get strands of net off the
feet and alula especially. However, always be careful because of
the sharp point, and for this reason use it around the head only if
Some birds (most notably thrushes, catbirds, thrashers, and
blackbirds) have a tongue with a long fork at the back. On
occasion the tongue may get stuck in the net if the bird attempts to
bite the net while caught. A bird that appears to be tongued is
always a top priority.
To minimize strain on the tongue, it is
important to immobilize the rest of the bird as completely as possible.
Since the birds most susceptible to tonguing are quite large and strong,
it is advisable to have two people working together whenever possible.
One person should secure the body and legs, while the other uses a
toothpick to gently lift the strand(s) of net off the back of the
tongue. Sometimes it may be necessary to carefully pry the net
loose from the feet first, if they are pulling on strands that are
producing tension around the head. If progress is particularly
slow, or the tongue is bleeding, it may be necessary to make a couple of
small cuts to the net - but if so, be careful to ensure no loose pieces
of net can be caught around the tongue and swallowed.
Pinned alula (small feather at the
Some birds appear to have a wing very tightly pinned to the body.
This usually is a result of the net having slipped around the alula as
the bird flew into the net, and tightened as it slid down around the
shoulder. Gently pulling the net sideways away from the bird may
solve this problem, as may gradually opening the wing while
simultaneously moving it a bit forward to release the tension.
Using a toothpick on the underside of the wing can also be helpful.
Rather than just grabbing the net, some birds stick their legs entirely
through it, so that the net rides up against the body along the thigh.
If only one leg is thighed, begin by freeing the wing on the opposite
side, and continue by releasing the head and other wing. You
should then be able to simply slide the mesh down off the thigh and
foot. In rare cases where the bird is thighed on both sides,
assess which leg will be easier to extricate, and begin with that, then
continue working around the body (wing-head-wing-other leg).
Tightly tangled birds
Most birds are (with experience) fairly easy to remove quickly, but
those that are particularly tightly tangled require extra effort and
care. Usually this occurs when their momentum has caused them to
spin around and land in the same pocket twice, especially on the bottom
panel or at the end of the nets. The key to solving these
challenges is to take time at the beginning to carefully assess how the
bird entered, and think through how to reverse the steps it followed.
Occasionally, birds will fall into a net pocket, and will get stuck
not only in that panel, but also the one below - usually either by
grabbing at it with their feet, or by sticking their head through.
If a bird looks particularly tangled, check for the possibility that it
is double-pocketed before starting your extraction, and ALWAYS make sure
to start with the secondary net first (i.e. whatever got tangled last
has to be untangled first).
Large loose birds
Because the mesh is small, large birds do not get their head or
wings stuck in the net. As such, they are effectively loose in the
pockets and can "run" back and forth in them. As they do so, the
net pocket may open up enough for them to fly back out. If you see
a large loose bird, run to the net, and secure it by holding the net
pocket closed above it. Usually if the bird is completely loose,
it's a simple matter of reaching in with your other hand and grabbing it
in a bander's grip.
Because of their sharp beak and talons, raptors merit some extra
caution. However, they are actually quite safe to handle if you do
so carefully. Because of their size, they will not actually be
tangled in the nets. Usually, they will adopt a defensive posture,
lying on their back, with talons ready to strike out. The best
approach is to start by securing the body of the raptor in place first,
usually from below (i.e. with the net between your hand and the bird).
Then put your other hand on the upper breast of the bird and slide
rapidly down the body, folding back the legs and pinning them to the
body. Stop just as your palms are over the base of the legs, and
wrap your hand around the wings and tail - this is the "ice cream cone"
grip. The bird can then be safely removed from the net, likely
with minimal net removal required with your free hand.
Biting birds (grosbeaks, cardinals,
Some birds have a particularly strong and painful bite. You
should be prepared for the occasional bite, in the sense that you should
be able to avoid making any physical reactions. For these birds,
more than any others, it is important that you approach with confidence
and remain in control. If you secure them in a good bander's grip,
they will only rarely be able to nip at you.
Some birds are very relaxed in the hand, while others tend to kick
sporadically in an attempt to escape. This is especially true of
sparrows, robins, and blackbirds. Their intent of course is
to escape. However, if they are still partially caught in the net
at this point, allowing them to jerk free could result in undue stress
on the wings, legs, or any other body part still stuck. Note
though, that instinctively grabbing at the bird is also
NOT a good idea - there is too much risk of grabbing it too strongly.
The best approach is to maintain a firm and steady grasp throughout your
extraction, and be prepared for some species to struggle a bit more than
Extraction is a difficult
process to describe and a challenging skill to master.
If you have any other tips to recommend, please share them with us at "mbo