Is mist netting safe for birds?

Posted by Carolina Lara @carislaris

An amazing advantage of having collaborated in avian studies in different countries is that I have learnt a range of different techniques people use to carry out ecological research. Of particular interest to me, given the nature of my PhD project, is the capture of birds using mist nets, better known as mist netting. Mist netting is a common technique for monitoring avian populations – it can provide data on population density and demography, but it also allows researchers to collect morphometric data and blood and faecal samples, attach devices and gain information about the birds’ feeding habits.


Bird poo collected to analyse feeding habits in urban forest fragments

Mist netting is labour intensive, especially in a natural environment such as a forest.  It requires looking for the most suitable location to place the mist nets, putting the nets up and then waiting to capture some birds (usually between 7–8 hours effort). The mist net set up (number of nets, timing) will vary according to the target species, the type of habitat, and the research questions being asked.

To me the beauty of mist netting is having the chance to hold a bird (yes, even that vicious tūī ). However, a high level of expertise is required to avoid injuries to the birds. Once captured in a mist net, a myriad of external factors (e.g. time of day or human error during handling) can affect the bird’s wellbeing. Nevertheless, it is an extensively used capture technique, so how safe is it?


Often people are too scared to come close to a captured tui

An interesting study quantifying rates of bird mortality and injury for 22 banding organizations in Canada and the United States showed that the average rate of bird injury and mortality from 620,997 captures was less than 1%. The most common incidents were wing injuries, stress, and cuts, with heavier birds more prone to incident within and among species. While the study found risks to birds are low, it is highly advised that new bird handlers are properly trained in mist netting techniques so they can safely extract and process birds captured in mist nets.

Mist netting is the part I enjoy the most about my research and has given me the opportunity to work with volunteers who enjoy this as much as me. For me mist netting is not only about collecting data for my study, but is also about engaging different people with real-life conservation.


Decreasing the handling time of a captured bird is important to reduce risk of incident



Carolina Lara M. is a PhD Candidate within the Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. Her research interests focus on seed dispersal networks within fragmented landscapes. She is supervised by Margaret Stanley,Jason Tylianakis, Karine David, and Anna Santure.

One thought on “Is mist netting safe for birds?

  1. Hi Caro.
    This article is very interesting especially teaching to capture birds is great responsibility as well as to collect data manipulation, put rings, etc.
    Congrats amiga.


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