Guidelines to the use of wild birds in research ~ English, 3rd Edition (2010)

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The 2010 edition (released in February 2010) was re-formatted and updated in August 2010. Please substitute the August 2010 update if you downloaded the full document or any individual chapters, as page numbers have changed and several paragraphs of new text have been added. See Release Notes for details.

New content added February 2018: Summary of literature on the use of small unmanned aircraft

Chapter index

Cover page
Author information
Copyright notice
About the Ornithological Council
Suggested citation
Table of contents

Context: the study of wild birds
History of Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research
Our approach
Practical limitations and general guidance for application
Regulatory agencies and other organizations
United States
Private organizations
International organizations
The oversight of research involving animals: legal basis and implementation
United States
Are birds covered?
Are field studies covered?
Application of the Animal Welfare Act outside the United States
Overview of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee system
Standards of review for field studies: a note for ornithologists
Standards of review for field studies: a note for institutional Animal Care and
Use Committees
Population-level impacts
Additional considerations
The importance of publishing methods papers

Ch2-Impacts of Investigator Presence
Preliminary studies to assess impacts
Impacts associated with investigator presence
Nest visits
Aircraft overflights
Approach and nearness to sensitive areas
Suggestions for field researchers

Ch3-Capture and Marking
General Considerations
Capture methods
Mist nets
Cannon and rocket nets
Funnel traps
Trapping at nest sites
Capture myopathy
General considerations
Metal bands
Colored leg bands
Dyes and ultraviolet markers
Neck collars
Nasal disks and saddles
Patagial (wing) markers and leg tags
Radio/satellite transmitters

Significant new literature (published after Feb 2010):

Zenzal, T.J., R.H. Diehl, and F.R. Moore. 2014. The impact of radio-tags on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). Condor 116: 518-526.

Radiotelemetry has advanced the field of wildlife biology, especially with the miniaturization of radio-tags. However, he major limitation when radio-tagging birds is the size of the animal to which a radio-tag can be attached. We tested ow miniature radio-tags affected flight performance and behavior of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), possibly the smallest bird species that has been fitted with radio-tags. Using eyelash adhesive, we fitted hatch-year individuals (n 20 males, n 15 females) with faux radio-tags of 3 sizes that varied in mass and antenna length (220 mg, 12.7 cm; 240 mg, 12.7 cm; and 220 mg, 6.35 cm), then filmed the birds in a field aviary to quantify activity budgets. We also estimated flight range using flight simulation models. When the 3 radio-tag packages were pooled for analysis, the presence of a radio-tag significantly decreased both flight time (~8%) and modeled flight range (~23%) in comparison to control birds. However, a multiple-comparison analysis between the different packages revealed that there was a significant difference in flight time when the larger radio-tag package (240 mg) as attached, and no significant difference in flight time when the lighter radio-tag packages (220 mg) were attached. Our results are similar to those of other studies that analyzed the flight time or flight range of birds wearing radio-tags. Therefore, currently available lightweight radio-tags ( 220 mg) may be a new option to aid in the study of hummingbird biology. Future study should focus on the additional drag created by the radio-tag and the effects of the lightest radio-tag packages on free-ranging birds. These studies would provide additional information to determine the feasibility of the use of radio-tags to study hummingbird biology.”

Weister, E.L, R.B. Lanctot, S.C. Brown, H.R. Gates, R.L. Bentzen, M.L. Boldenow, J.A. Cunningham, A. Doll, T.F. Donnelly, W.B. English, S.E. Franks, K. Grond, P. Herzog, B.L. Hill, S. Kendall, E. Kwon, D.B. Lank, J.R. Liebezeit, J. Rausch, S.T. Saalfeld, A.R. Taylor, D.H. Ward, P.F. Woodard, B.K. Sandercock. 2018. Effects of leg flags on nest survival of four species of Arctic‐breeding shorebirds. J. Field Ornithology 89 (3): 287-297.

Abstract (English) (Spanish)

Marking wild birds is an integral part of many field studies. However, if marks affect the vital rates or behavior of marked individuals, any conclusions reached by a study might be biased relative to the general population. Leg bands have rarely been found to have negative effects on birds and are frequently used to mark individuals. Leg flags, which are larger, heavier, and might produce more drag than bands, are commonly used on shorebirds and can help improve resighting rates. However, no one to date has assessed the possible effects of leg flags on the demographic performance of shorebirds. At seven sites in Arctic Alaska and western Canada, we marked individuals and monitored nest survival of four species of Arctic‐breeding shorebirds, including Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla), Western Sandpipers (C. mauri), Red‐necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus), and Red Phalaropes (P. fulicarius). We used a daily nest survival model in a Bayesian framework to test for effects of leg flags, relative to birds with only bands, on daily survival rates of 1952 nests. We found no evidence of a difference in nest survival between birds with flags and those with only bands. Our results suggest, therefore, that leg flags have little effect on the nest success of Arctic‐breeding sandpipers and phalaropes. Additional studies are needed, however, to evaluate the possible effects of flags on shorebirds that use other habitats and on survival rates of adults and chicks.

Spotswood, E. N., K. R. Goodman, J. Carlisle, R. L. Cormier, D. L. Humple, J. Rousseau, S. L. Guers, and G. G. Barton. 2012. How safe is mist netting? evaluating the risk of injury and mortality to birds. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 3:29-38. DOI: 10.1111/j.2041-210X.2011.00123.x Available online (open access) here

Trefry, S. A., A. W. Diamond, and L. K. Jesson. 2013. Winger marker woes: a case study and meta-analysis of the impacts of wing and patagial tags. Journal of Ornithology 154:1-11. Full text available here (you will need to register for or if you are already registered, you will need to sign in).

Summary: Though wing tags as a visible field marker have been used on frigatebirds for over 40 years, we observed that wing-tagged nests seemed to be faring worse than control nests at our study site in the Lesser Antilles. We designed a study to investigate the cause(s), as other treatments were also being applied simultaneously. Not only did we find that wing tags were negatively affecting nest success, but a subsequent meta-analysis demonstrated that wing markers have detrimental effects on other species of birds, in terms of survival or productivity measures.

Regulatory guidelines
Considerations for all types of transportation
Food and water
Timing and duration
Specific modes of transportation
Air transport
Ground transport
Health and safety during and after transport
Stress and physiological considerations

Ch5-Captive Management
Regulatory requirements and oversight
Quarantine of animals
Prevention and control of animal disease
First aid
Separation by species
Daily care
Caging and housing
Enrichment for birds in captivity
General maintenance
Special considerations for aquatic birds
Identification and records
Disposition of birds after experiments
Variations on standard procedure
Zoonoses and other risks to humans

Ch6-Minor Manipulative Procedures
Wild birds studied in captivity
Collection of blood samples
Impacts of collection on survival and behavior
Choice of methods
Stopping bleeding
Blood samples
Repeated sampling
Alternate means to obtain blood of material for genetic studies, stable isotope
analysis, and contaminants
Collection of other tissues
Collection of food samples
Neck ligatures on nestlings
Fecal analysis and pellet analysis
Stomach and crop flush
Force Feeding
Cloacal lavage
Injections and insertion of implants
Determination of egg viability
Playback of recorded vocalization and the use of decoys
Artificial eggs
Experimental manipulation of plumage

Bowers, E.K., S.K. Sakaluk, and C.F.. Thompson. 2016. No effect of blood sampling or phytohaemagglutinin injection on postfledging survival in a wild songbird. Ecology and Evolution 2016; 6(10): 3107–3114.

The injection of phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) and sampling of blood are widely
used in studies of wild vertebrates to assess components of immune and endocrine
function and health state and to obtain genetic material. Despite the pervasive
use of these techniques in the life sciences, their potential effects on survival are rarely considered. For example, whether injection of the immunogen PHA into body parts critical for locomotion (e.g., the prepatagium, or wing web, in birds) affects survival has not been tested. Here, we test whether injection of PHA into the wing web and blood sampling from nestling house wrens affects their subsequent recruitment and survival as breeding adults. Capturemark-recapture analysis on a large sample of young (N = 20,152 fledglings from 3959 broods) treated over 10 years revealed that neither PHA injection nor blood sampling affected individual survival and detection probability. Recruitment as a breeder varied among years, but this variation was not attributable to sampling effort, or the percent of all adults identified at the nest during a given year. Variation in the percent of adults identified was primarily attributable to the effect of nest depredation on our ability to capture nesting pairs. Our results indicating lack of an effect of blood sampling and immune
stimulation on survival are encouraging, but we recommend further work to
assess the potential negative effects of all commonly used techniques on the
survival of study subjects in the wild, including the potential costs associated
with mounting various immunological responses.

Redmond, L. J. and M. T. Murphy. 2011. Multistate mark-recapture analysis reveals no effect of blood sampling on survival and recapture of Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus). 2011. Auk 128:514-521

Lattin, C. R., J. M. Reed, D. W. DesRochers, and L. M. Romero. 2011. Elevated corticosterone in feathers correlates with corticosterone-induced decreased feather quality: a validation study. Journal of Avian Biology 42:247-252. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-048X.2010.05310.x (PDF, courtesy of the authors)


Ch7-Major Manipulative Procedures
Intended fate of subject
General consideration
Aseptic technique
Physical restraint
Pain management
Access to controlled substances
General anesthesia
Drug combinations
Local anesthesia
Incision closure and treatment
Specific field surgeries
Implantation of transmitters

Ch8-Scientific Collecting
Purpose of scientific collecting
Impact of populations
Humane methods

To save a bird carcass for science

Suggested citation

Fair, J., E. Paul, and J. Jones, Eds. 2010. Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research. Washington, D.C.: Ornithological Council

With the publication of the 2010 revision of Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research, the print version is discontinued. We encourage you to cite the internet version by including the URL and the date accessed, including the given date of any updates.

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