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Guidelines to the Use
of Wild Birds in Research

Download Entire Document Here

The 2010 revision released in February 2010 has been re-formatted and updated. If you downloaded the full document or any of the chapters, please substitute the August 2010 update, as page numbers have changed and several paragraphs of new text have been added. See Release Notes for details.

Chapter index

Prefatory Matter (PDF)
    Cover page
    Author information
    Copyright notice
    About the Ornithological Council
    Suggested citation
    Table of contents

Introduction (PDF)
        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

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

Capture and Marking (PDF)
    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):

How safe is mist netting? evaluating the risk of injury and mortality to birds. 2011. Spotswood, E.N., K.R. Goodman, J. Carlisle, R.L. Cormier, D.L. Humple, J. Rousseau, S.L. Guers, and G.G. Barton. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Article first published online: 30 June 2011. DOI: 10.1111/j.2041-210X.2011.00123.x
Available online (open access):

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.

Trefry, Sarah A., A. W. Diamond, and L.K. Jesson. 2012. Winger marker woes: a case study and meta-analysis of the impacts of wing and patagial tags. Journal of Ornithology. Published online 4 June 2012. Full text available here: (You will need to register for or if you are already registered, you will need to sign in)

Transport of wild birds (PDF)
    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

Captive Management (PDF)
    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

Minor Manipulative Procedures (PDF)
    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

Significant new literature (published after Feb 2010):

Multistate Mark-Recapture Analysis Reveals no Effect of Blood Sampling on survival and recapture of Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus). 2011. Redmond, L.J. and M.T. Murphy. Auk 128:514-521.

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

Major Manipulative Procedures (PDF)
    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

Scientific Collecting (PDF)
    Purpose of scientific collecting
    Impact of populations
    Humane methods

Appendix A (PDF)
    To save a bird carcass for science

Suggested citation

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.

Questions and comments

We welcome your comments. Suggestions for substantive changes will be reviewed by a committee and if accepted, will be incorporated into the Guidelines. Questions are welcome, but we can not guarantee that someone will be available to reply. Send comments to:

© 1997, 1999, 2010 by The Ornithological Council