I volunteered for the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia for three years and netting the birds in the flight cage was always the same: get the birds flying, hold up the net, wait until the bird flew into the net, twist to prevent escape, and lower the net to the ground. It never occurred to any of them not to fly into the net. Not surprising for the owls: their skulls are 49% eye, 49% ear, and 2% brain. (Percentages are approximate but the point is that the idea of a wise owl is a myth.) The hawks are pretty smart but they generally reserved their wiles (and talons) for the ground battle, i.e. getting them into carriers for trips to the vet, or on happy occasions, release. See photo below from the Prairie Birder blog.

Goshawk battling birder and net after getting trapped in an enclosure

Enter the Stephen and Gwen.

As chronicled in the recent Vet Games post, Gwen probably was a little too enthusiastic about being allofed by Stephen and chomped his tongue along with whatever morsel he was offering her. (Aside: our pair has started the spring mating rituals of feeding each other (allofeeding) and preening each other (allopreening)—behaviors that strengthen bonding and trust for potential parenthood.) Not surprisingly, he developed a nasty infection, so now I have to net him once a day to give him antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory painkiller. For the first couple of days my tried and true netting techniques worked but no more. Stephen has figured out the following:

  • Cling to the side of the enclosure with a death grip; no worries if Room Service Woman manages to pry one talon off, it can be reattached while she struggles with the next. Bonus tip: cling about 6-7 feet up, to be just slightly out of reach—otherwise she’ll just administer the meds through the mesh of the net. Humans can be sneaky.
  • Grip onto a perch. When she puts the net over you, fly out from below while she is reach for a towel to cut off escape.
  • Fly high and low; chances are she’ll have the net at the wrong level.
  • She can cut you off in the nesting area, so don’t stay there, but it’s fine to fly in and out. She can’t turn around very fast, especially since the net can get caught on a lot of things back there.


So now medicating Monsieur Crowbert is a two-person job. Super Hub wields the net and I follow with towel and the dreaded syringe. Luckily it has not yet occurred to Our Hero that, once netted, biting at the syringe is not the optimal strategy. We have 5 more doses to go. Let’s hope Stephen keeps his focus on evasive tactics rather than opting for the dreaded beak clamp down.

Gwen’s role in all of this is to yell at me as I leave the enclosure as no one messes with her man.