Passerine Handling and Restraint


Handling and manual restraint is required for virtually any medical procedure in the songbird or passerine. Warn owners of the inherent risk of handling the critically ill bird. Minimize passerine handling and restraint time so the bird does not overheat or become overly distressed, and monitor the bird closely for any change in strength, breathing, or attitude.


Equipment needed

  • A room free of potential safety issues. Make sure all doors and windows are secure. Pull down window blinds to cover glass and minimize potential hiding places.
  • All equipment that may be needed during the examination or procedure such as a mouth speculum, bright light source, gram scale, etc.
  • Since most songbirds will sit quietly when they cannot see, it can be helpful to have an assistant turn off or dim the lights.
  • Towel or paper towel of appropriate size. Towels should be free of loose threads that can catch on body parts. Paper towels that have been crumpled to make them more malleable work well for small songbirds.


Video produced by Dr. M. Scott Echols and narrated by Dr. Susan Orosz.

Passerine handling and restraint

  • Before handling the bird, obtain a thorough history to identify and avoid potential problems.
  • Carefully observe the bird at a distance for subtle signs of illness. If the patient is severely debilitated or dyspneic, consider supplemental heat and/or oxygen before handling.
  • Approach the bird calmly and quietly.
  • Slowly remove any items that may hinder capture or pose a risk to the patient.
  • Gently yet firmly herd the bird into a corner or against the cage wall using the paper towel or towel.

    Passerine handling pressing against wall

    Figure 1. Herd the bird into a corner or against the cage wall. Click on image to enlarge.

  • Because many songbirds are so small, if they are restrained like a parrot it is possible for them to escape if the handler loosens their grip for even a second—since the space created is relatively large. Instead place the index and middle fingers just beneath the jaws and gently extend the neck. Use the palm of your hand to secure the body.

    Example of proper restraint

    Figure 2. Place the index and middle fingers just beneath the jaws and gently extend the neck. Click image to enlarge.

  • Immediately after handling, some songbirds are tachypneic and agitated while others become quiet and subdued. Most birds return to normal activity within 2 to 3 minutes unless there is underlying debilitation or the restraint period was prolonged.