Becoming tangled in line or netting can cause serious injuries to wildlife. It is very tempting when faced with this scenario to want to save the animal yourself by simply cutting it free. But there are several good reasons why you should not do this. In this scenario you will almost always need to seek help from a wildlife rescue to ensure any injuries are properly treated.
You can find rescues in your area using the search facility on our map page.
Animals trapped in netting or fencing
A trapped animal will be extremely frightened and will view your approach not as help but as a great threat. It will try to defend itself and if the victim is a squirrel, fox, badger, deer or swan for example it could cause you serious injury. These animals should only be handled by experienced rescuers with specialist equipment. If the casualty is a smaller, less dangerous type and you’re able to, cover it with a towel to keep it calm and cut it free with a good few inches of the netting left attached. Do not attempt to remove the netting from the animal yourself unless absolutely necessary, for example, if it’s restricting the animal’s breathing.
It is very important that you do not just release the animal. If trapped for some time, the animal may be dehydrated, malnourished, suffering from shock, hypothermia or heat stroke. It may need a chance to rest and recuperate before being made to face the challenges of life in the wild again. Constriction by netting, fencing or line can cause lasting damage due to the loss of blood supply to the affected area. It is therefore vital that every animal trapped in this way is assessed and treated by an experienced wildlife rehabilitator.
Animals with fishing line, hair or string on them
All of these materials commonly get wrapped round birds' feet, cutting off the circulation and causing infection, necrosis and amputations. Birds whose feet are affected can be difficult to help as their their ability to fly is often unaffected. See the 'capture' section below for advice.
Left in the water, fishing line is easily mistaken for weed and swallowed by waterfowl. If you see a bird with fishing line hanging from its beak it is important that you seek assistance and do not try to capture the bird yourself. NEVER try to remove fishing line from the mouth. There may be a hook on the other end which could cause serious lasting damage so the bird should be assessed and treated at a wildlife rescue. It’s worth noting though that just as a bird can get weed and line mixed up so can you. Double check before you call that what you’re seeing really is line and not just a harmless bit of pond weed.
Any small bird needs to be handled with care. Their bones are very delicate and it would be easy to injure them by handling them roughly. It may help to pick the bird up in a towel – it will ease both the physical and mental stress on the bird.
If you need to pick up a large bird such as a crow or gull, it is advisable to do so using gardening gloves or a thick towel. Larger birds have powerful beaks and can peck really quite hard. Be sure to keep the beak well away from your face to avoid eye injuries.
Many birds shed feathers when stressed – if they lose their tail feathers they cannot fly and these can take months to regrow. They are also very susceptible to stress and some birds can even die from the stress of being handled by humans. Always hold the wings against the body to avoid the bird flapping and make it feel more secure. Many birds feel more comfortable if their feet are supported when possible.
If the victim is a larger animal such as a goose, swan or fox, it is not advisable to try and capture or handle them yourself. Instead, call a rescue and keep an eye on the animal while you wait for help.
Most small birds and mammals can be successfully contained in a cardboard or shoe box. For large birds a carry box designed for cats might be better if the bird is still lively and determined. If using a cardboard box make sure the lid is secured to prevent escape and there are sufficient air holes. A towel on the bottom will make the animal more comfortable. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.
While you’re looking for help, it is not generally necessary or advisable to provide food and water. Feeding a shocked, ill, or weakened animal can cause lethal complications. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk or alcohol to any wildlife.
It is likely that the animal will be shocked or weakened so supplementary heat can be very helpful here. You can put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at one end of the box, either inside, underneath or next to the box, ensuring the animal can get away from the heat if it wants to. If they begin to pant, remove the heat source immediately.
NB: this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours or overnight. If you are not able to get the animal to a wildlife rescue promptly, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period. If you want to care for the casualty yourself rather than taking it to a rescue, please read the information here.