Predator Control


Few things are more soul destroying than coming out one morning to find your precious birds lying around dead or half-buried after a visit from a fox. Although the fox is perhaps the most destructive predator, we need to be aware of badgers, cats and dogs, crows and magpies.

Small predators like rats, mink, squirrels, stoats and weasels will always get in unless you build an enclosed aviary, but they can be dealt with by trapping. There are three main types of predator which can be trapped:

  • crows and magpies
  • foxes and rats
  • mink, stoats and weasels

Always wear a pair of old gardening gloves when you are trapping, as the scent of human hands lingers for days.

Crows and Magpies

These can be caught in a Larsen trap. These are available from most gamebird suppliers. They are very effective for magpies and crows, especially if a call bird is used. Recently there have been changes to the rules regarding the taking of wild birds, you should check on the current situation here. Caught birds should be despatched swiftly and humanely.

The trap works on the principle of a new bird invading the territory of the existing birds. They fly down to investigate, land on the trap perch and are caught. For the best results it is advisable to use a magpie call bird from several miles away. Incidentally, this trap will catch crows if set in a crow’s territory i.e. under one of their nests. The call bird must have water and be fed daily. The food can vary from hen eggs to pieces of rabbit or pigeon or some tinned dog food. The trap must be attended to each day and regularly moved to a new position. Trapping times mainly correspond to the breeding season, from early March to April and again in June to catch fledgling magpies. It is not uncommon to catch a complete family in this way.


Foxes are wily and can smell us coming. They are well aware that there are duck dinners to be had and will be patrolling your fences each night. Foxes can be caught in a live-catch, weld-mesh box-trap using a dead bait of an opened chicken or rabbit. It can be set anywhere but is best near to outbuildings or poultry sheds. Use straw or hay round the entrances to the trap and inside as well. You will have to check it daily, particularly early in the morning. The animal should be dispatched quickly and humanely by an experienced person. This trap is sometimes not so successful in rural areas. The best defence is adequate electric fencing. If one fox is removed from a territory, others will move in.

Rats, Mink, Stoats and Weasels

Rats are attracted by food, eggs and young ducklings. Stoats and weasels are mainly a problem when they are feeding young and will take eggs, ducklings and goslings. The best plan is to organise a number of strategically placed tunnel traps containing Fenn Mark 4 traps round the outside of the enclosure to catch any of these predators before they have a chance to get inside. If necessary, you can use some live-catch cage-traps in the enclosure as well, hoping you don’t get too many of your own inquisitive birds at the same time! (This is why you use live-catch traps here.) A trap in a box is also effective. Use maize or corn as bait for rats, and anything fishy for mink.

Mink will kill anything, at any time of year. They normally hunt in small groups so, if you catch one in an outlying trap, there are likely to be more. Many counties are actively attempting to eradicate mink. You may be able to get advice from a local Wildlife Trust, who might come and set monitoring floats. These are a tray of damp clay on a raft covered by a tunnel. They will show you what species are routinely passing through.

Rats are a nuisance all the year round but especially in the autumn when they come in from the fields to look for shelter and food. If food is left out for ad-lib feeding, it can be very difficult to clear an infestation so it is important to act straight away if any signs are seen: worn trails, dropping latrines at the water’s edge or earth thrown up from a tunnel. The rat is suspicious of anything new, they are neo-phobic. They do not see particularly well but have a keen sense of smell; they do love a tunnel. Poisoning should only be done outside the enclosure. Bait should not be accessible to non-target species and bodies should be sought out and destroyed by incineration. Rodenticides are more strictly controlled now than they once were. The strength available to the amateur is half what it was. The quantity you can purchase is also limited. Read the code of practice for bait poisoning here.

CCRU Code of Best Practice

Snap traps in closed rodent boxes are very effective. The entry holes are small enough to exclude most ducks. Peanut butter is an excellent bait. Outlying tunnel traps are worth spending a little time on as they will be working continuously and must be checked at least once a day. They can be built of wood, stone, bricks or soil and turf. They should provide what looks like a safe haven for ground vermin to run into and out of at the other end – the theory being that most rats or mice don’t like to linger too long in the open. Traps near gateways work well, so, using some drainage pipe at each end, build up a tunnel with a space in the middle inside for the trap to work in. The tunnel must be above the water table and accessible only to vermin. Try to make the surrounding area look as natural as possible with a nice wide mouth leading to the entrance. Bring the chain attached to the trap through the wall of the tunnel and peg it to the ground outside. Use a slate or tile as a lid over the top so you can gain access when you want to remove the trap. You should be able to see at a glance if you have caught anything when you bend down and look along the tunnel. This is important if you are trapping near a public right of way or are open to the public gaze. If the trap is set properly it will kill every time. When you are re-setting it, don’t forget to flick the safety catch off before replacing the cover over the top.


Husbandry FAQ

  • Activated charcoal
  • Antiseptic wipes/hand gel
  • Clean crate with fresh wood shavings always ready
  • Cotton bag to carry the bird
  • Micropore tape
  • Nail clippers
  • Preparation H ointment (not gel)
  • Saline solution (eyewash)
  • Sam splint
  • Scissors/cutters
  • Surgical gloves
  • Tick remover
  • Tweezers/forceps
  • Vet surgery contact details to hand
  • Veterinary wound powder
  • Vetwrap bandage
  • Wing restraints (socks/towels/custom made jackets)

The principles of biosecurity are frequently discussed, particularly in respect of the now possible threat of Avian Influenza.  Biosecurity is essentially the creation of a microbiological barrier to prevent contact between the pathogens (in this case Avian Influenza Virus) and the host (domestic or captive waterfowl).

The purpose of this note, therefore, is to consider aspects of biosecurity which can be put into place to protect these populations of waterfowl. Every waterfowl keeper will have a different set-up and it is possible to adapt their situation to fit in with these guidelines.

We should understand both the nature of the virus and the circumstances under which the virus can be introduced to our livestock.  There are two main ways the virus might be introduced. Firstly there is the risk of direct spread from migrating birds and secondly the indirect spread from these or another infected population.

Migrating waterfowl will be attracted to stretches of water and in the case of geese associated grazing.

The safest approach is to bring all susceptible livestock indoors and to keep them so confined for the length of the risk period.  Should this not be possible, then birds should be fenced well away from their swimming water if this is fed from a watercourse.  Efforts should then be made to avoid wild birds visiting the livestock.

An extra safeguard is to supply the feed and water inside the bird housing. Outside large water troughs must be avoided.

Having penned the birds away from water, it is an additional precaution if those pens can be netted over to prevent wild bird access. Your birds could be allowed access to a mains fed pond if it can be included in the netted area.

The virus is spread from the wild birds through the faeces. These will contaminate the edges of the ponds as well as the pond water itself and also any grazed pasture.  The precautions taken must consider how these faeces might get walked into the livestock pens.

  • Avoid walking round the ponds.
  • Do not go fishing, when clothes, footwear, vehicle and fishing equipment could become contaminated.
  • Change footwear before entering livestock pens (do not rely on foot dips).
  • Do not let dogs or other pets enter the livestock pens.
  • Always ensure the water provided to the birds is clean mains water
  • Drain or fill in any puddles.

Whilst migrating waterfowl may not visit your ponds they may be visited, for example, by local Mallard which could have picked up the virus from other ponds.

The other precautions to have in place are to avoid direct or indirect contact with other domestic waterfowl (or poultry) collections.

  • Do not borrow equipment from others.
  • Do not lend equipment to others.
  • Do not let other people visit your waterfowl.
  • Any staff must not have their own livestock nor have contact with other people’s livestock.
  • Do not visit other people’s livestock.
  • Do not bring other birds into your livestock pens (purchases, borrowings, gifts etc)
  • Do not take your birds to shows, exhibitions, etc nor bring birds from these events.
  • Do not lend your birds to anyone (eg a drake for mating other people’s hens)
  • Do not share a feed delivery with anyone.
  • Ensure stocks of feed are kept undercover in a clean, dry, rodent-free store.
  • Collect up and discard any spilled feed.
  • Don’t share incubation facilities with others.

Whilst this might not be a comprehensive list of precautions, it is sufficient to stimulate thoughts on the precautions to take.

If in doubt about anything, don’t do it.

The time to introduce these precautions is now. Don’t wait for the infection to be diagnosed in the country. Yours could be the first infected premises.  Register all livestock, however small the population, with DEFRA, who can then be expected to keep you informed of any increased risk of disease and keep you supplied with advisory notes.

If serious disease is seen in your birds, notify your veterinary adviser and DEFRA immediately. Remember, however, avian influenza in waterfowl may not make them sick.  This is why you must be suspicious of any other stock which is not yours and appears healthy.

Please follow this advice as closely as possible.

I should be pleased to help if needed. Any questions should be submitted through the BWA secretary by letter or email

Keith Gooderham BVSc, DPMP, MRCVS, Specialist in Poultry Medicine and Production

We recommend you locate a veterinary practice which has a partner specialising in avian medicine. This should be done as a basic part of planning your facilities. Some farm practices might be able to help, recommendation from other waterfowl keepers can be invaluable.

Birds mask their symptoms well as defence against being targeted by a predator. With careful observation we can detect a problem developing.

Sick birds often sit hunched up with fluffed out feathers. They may lose appetite, or simply hide away.

The topics and advice on these pages are given in good faith. The intent is to provide a general overview but is not a replacement for specialist veterinary care. If you suspect any of the following, immediate veterinary assistance is recommended:

  • Poisoning
  • Broken bones (especially if bone has broken the skin)
  • Attack by other animal
  • Swallowing something sharp
  • Significant wounds
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Eye injury
  • Prolapse (phallus or oviduct) that cannot be replaced
  • A need for pain relief

In the UK we face few restrictions as to which species of waterfowl we can keep. Only the (North American) Ruddy Duck is prohibited. This is to protect the endangered White-headed Duck.

As long as you keep them contained, that means not released or allowed to escape, you may keep all the other Anseriformes. All may be traded freely as long as they are individulally proven as captive bred. This means close ringed or microchipped for identification. Our native and ordinarily resident birds listed in Appendix 2 of the General Licence may be moved without a ring. Mute Swan and Egyptian Goose require an individual licence to be moved.

Our responsibility to these birds is to keep them in conditions sympathetic to a contented mental state. They should be adequately fed and watered, kept in comfortable conditions with relation to their size and normal habits, and sheltered from weather extremes. We should protect them from pain, injury and disease and allow them the freedom to express normal behaviour. We should do all in our power to protect them from fear and distress.

Essentially, these are summed up in the five freedoms of animal welfare. Expanded; four physical or functional domains of nutrition, environment, health and behaviour surround and influence the mental state. The Five Domains are key to the highest standards of welfare.

As the British Waterfowl Association we believe that the highest standard of welfare should remain one of our core values.

Read the paper about Fundamental Welfare Requirements here.

The clue is in the name – waterfowl. So the answer is yes.

The pond need not be huge for basic health, provided the water is changed frequently and kept clean. All waterfowl need to be able to fully immerse their heads in water, to keep eyes and nostrils clear. They nearly always wish to drink when feeding.

Clean water is also vital for bathing. Waterfowl know their survival is dependent on keeping their feathers in good condition, so a high proportion of their time is spent on washing and preening. They will have a regular routine of splash bathing, flapping, then rearranging their feathers.

Small bodies of stagnant water, especially in warm weather, can harbour disease. Waterfowl soil the water every time they bathe, so any disease or parasites present can be shared quickly amongst the flock.

Nearly all waterfowl prefer to mate on water. Particularly, the heavier breeds of domestic geese may be injured if forced to mate on land.

Geese and many of the ducks have evolved to eat grass – lot of grass. In the wild they range widely, mowing as they go. The intake of a goose is about 1/5 of that of your average sheep. Why eat so much? The answer lies in nutritional content. This varies according to the growth stage of the plant and also the season. All but the very freshest leaves are high in fibre and low in meaningful nutrition. No surprise then that newly emerged leaves are nibbled away with relish. Many people keep geese to manage grass and reduce the need to mow. There are merits in this strategy but only to reduce, not eliminate mowing. If the grass is bowling green short all summer, it will disappear completely over the winter.

Domestic ducks and geese are not always good parents, it very much depends on the breed.

Many breeders of domestic and wild waterfowl use small broody hens and have excellent results. Muscovy ducks are also used.

Wildfowl may reliably sit on a clutch. It will depend on the species as to how reliable they are if there is any disturbance in the vicinity. Some species are very secretive, like the Garganey. Others, like Eiders, will sit faithfully through all manner of civil unrest.

You will need to make a choice as to whether to lift the eggs early or leave the eggs under the mother.

There is a vast array of incubators on the market. Whichever one you choose, it is best to hatch in a separate hatcher. The bacterial contamination of hatching birds will affect any eggs of different stages still in the incubator.

Waterfowl are naturally inquisitive and will uproot and nibble any plants in and around the pond. Some native and common garden species are poisonous. We suggest that these should be avoided in a waterfowl enclosure where they could be nibbled:

  • Black (deadly) nightshade
  • Bracken
  • Bryony
  • Castor Bean
  • Clematis
  • Common St John’s Wort
  • Corn Cockle
  • Daffodil bulbs
  • Daphne berries
  • Delphinium
  • Some Ferns
  • Foxglove
  • Some Fungi
  • Hemlock
  • Henbane
  • Hyacinth bulbs
  • Hydrangea
  • Most ornamental Irises
  • Laburnum seeds
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Meadow buttercup
  • Oleander
  • Potato sprouts
  • Privet
  • Ragwort
  • Rapeseed
  • Rhododendron
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Sweet pea
  • Tulip
  • Vetch
  • Yew

We hope it is. Our website content is available for all to use, but of course running our site has costs. Please credit any photographs and link back to the British Waterfowl Association. We hope you will join. Whether or not you do, will you help us continue to improve our content by making a donation?


Thank you.