Capturing Your Bird

Small Bird – Medium Bird – Large Bird

When capturing your bird for examination, grooming or medication, it is important to keep the experience as pleasant and stress-free as possible. To enable a smooth process, one must mentally go over exactly what needs to be done and prepare. If possible, capture your bird outside the cage, as this reduces stress. An extra pair of hands is always helpful but for most birds, not necessary. Always hold the bird in a towel or cloth, to spare the feathers and secure the wings, then wrap your hands around the sides of the bird, rather than compressing the chest—or you can asphyxiate your bird.

If you are capturing a bird to medicate it, this is also a good time to give it a thorough examination, to trim a long nail or two, to feel its overall weight by tracing the prominence of the keel bone, or by weighing the bird. Capturing a bird is always stressful for the bird, to some degree, so try to do as much in one capture as you can reasonably accomplish.

Before capturing the bird, lay out all the materials you will need: medication, already drawn up in the syringe; nail clippers; a scale, if you wish to weigh the bird; the proper size towel for holding the bird.

Small Bird

Select the appropriate size towel for the bird. Capture and examine a cockatiel or budgie in a washcloth sized towel, or piece of flannel. For larger birds, use larger towels, and for the birds with big beak power, use a thicker towel. The proper sized towel will allow you to comfortably wrap the bird to still and control the wings; there shouldn’t be a lot of excess material hanging down below the bird, and the material should allow for just one wrap around the body. Anything more will just get in the way, and you’ll lose the bird in the excess cloth. In this example, Linda capures her cockatiel, Roxanne, for a quick examination.


Here, Linda captures Roxanne with a washcloth, which she quickly determines is too small for her cockatiel. If you find your towel is not the right size, now is the time to locate a better one.


If you can, capture your bird off of your arm or finger, rather than capturing it in the cage.  This can be accomplished by steadily bringing the towel up behind the bird, or by having another person gently capture the bird while it’s sitting on your arm or finger.


Bring the towel up around the bird. Using your thumb and first finger, encircle the bird’s head from behind, keeping the towel between the skin of your fingers and the birds head. Feel for the place where the birds mandibles, upper and lower, meet, and gently apply pressure at this point to control head movement. If you press here, you will always be pressing below the birds eyes, and so, will not be injuring the eyes when you hold the bird.

As soon as the head is under control, bring the towel around the bird’s body to control the wings.  These two procedures should follow each other quickly: head under control, wings under control. Secure your cockatiel or budgie with one hand while you use the other to position her properly, fold in the towel edges and wrap her securely.

You should now have the bird comfortably in the towel, with the head visible but not able to twist, and the wings and body wrapped within the towel. Don’t press or tense up–a common problem when people are restraining a bird. Remember to talk to your bird in a reassuring manner. Use its name and speak calmly.


Note Linda’s hand positions. The one hand securely holding her bird’s head at the spots where the upper and lower mandibles meet, and the other holding her body, with wings secured.

Now is the time to examine your bird. After you are done, talk quietly to her while she’s still in the towel, give her a head scratch and a kiss, and then release her slowly and gently.


Always reward your bird after the ordeal has ended.. Immediately after the bird is free, give her ringing praise. And, a treat!



Medium Bird

Linda needs to capture Oliver, a wild caught Goffin Cockatoo, so that she may medicate him. View slide shows, Medicating Your Bird, Parts One, Two and Three.


Oliver likes to hide behind a screen of toys. Always remove obstructing toys before capturing your bird. This will be much easier than trying to work around them, and will be much less stressful for the bird. Swinging toys can cause injury.


Be thorough, methodical, and don’t rush the job. Even if your bird has many toys, be sure to remove any that will get in the way of a successful capture. The last thing you want is your bird to get a toe caught or wing tangled.




With the area is clear, you may proceed.



Smaller birds will almost always migrate to the top of the cage to avoid capture. Your bird will be less afraid if you bring the towel up from below it for the catch. A towel coming from above simulates a predator attack, and is often much more terrifying. Bringing the towel up from below gives the bird less time to see it coming, so you will catch the bird faster, and it will be a bit less afraid. Note how Linda holds the towel between two hands and positions them to close in on either side of our bird.



If your bird tries to avoid you, gently follow him and keep your movement to a minimum.



There will come an opportune moment to close the towel over your bird. Open the towel and attempt to secure the head of the bird through the towel. Feel for the joint where the upper and lower mandibles meet, so that an eye is not pressed by mistake. Note hand positions, the one securing his body and the other gently cradling his head.


Once the head is secured, fold the towel around the bird’s body to secure the wings, and draw the bird from the cage. Remove your bird in a fluid motion.



Once the bird is out, immediately shift your hands to secure your grip on the head, and wrap the towel to controll his body and wings.



Correctly held, the bird’s head will be secured by your thumb on one side, and your fingers wrapping around the neck to press against the other side of the bird’s face. Your other hand secures the towel around the bird’s body.

Oliver is wrapped and in position to be administered medicine. Don’t forget to praise your bird and give it a treat when its ordeal is over.

Large Bird

In this example, Linda captures Mr. Rosie, an old Lilac-Crowned Amazon rescue, from his cage. View slide show, Capturing Your Amazon from the Cage.


When capturing a bird in a cage, wait until the bird is facing away from you, and climbing, to attempt the capture. Do not try to capture the bird while it’s on a perch, or facing you, as you will likely not be successful, and may well sustain a bite.




Gently place your appropriately sized towel over the entire bird, head to tail.



If your bird manages to elude you, try and steer him into the cage corner. With one hand, cover his back, and with the other, feel with your fingertips for the joint of the jaw, where the lower and upper mandible meet. You will want to grasp the bird’s head, through the towel, with your thumb on one side and your first two fingers on the other, on this part of the birds face–the joint of the upper and lower mandibles. Grip higher, and you might catch an eye. If the bird continues to move as you feel for your hold, just calmly allow your hands and arms to move with the bird, keeping the towel in place as you do so.

As soon as you have a firm but gentle grip on the head, draw the bird’s body toward you. Note that Linda’s left hand holds Mr. Rosie by the neck as instructed, and her right holds his body and towel in place. Use a fluid and quick motion to remove your bird.



If the bird won’t let go of the cage with his beak or feet, be patient as you work to detach them. Here is Mr. Rosie immediately after LInda has removed him from his cage. Note her finger positions.



As the body comes toward you, quickly wrap the towel around the wings to secure them. Once the bird is free of the cage, continue to adjust the towel, and your grip, to make them both more secure.



An adjusted grip will result in your thumb on one side of the bird’s head, and your fingers on the other, securing the head and neck from movement.


Keep the towel bunched up a bit, to protect your hand if the bird begins to wiggle free (it happens!). If the bird wants to chew at the towel, let him do so as a distraction. Better the towel than your hand.




Written & Photographed by: Linda Brink and Randi Hoffmann