wikiHow to Safely Extract a Bird from a Mist Net

Mist nets are used by ornithologists and bat biologists to capture wild birds and bats for banding (attaching a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag to the leg or wing) or other research projects. This guide is focused towards ornithologists, field surveyors, and/or college students by giving an easy step by step into bird banding. The safety of birds is the number one priority and in the efforts to monitoring birds, banding has been the most successful.


  1. Image titled Safely Extract a Bird from a Mist Net Step 1
    Sit and wait for a bird to fly into a mist-net.
    • Be sure to use binoculars while waiting for a bird to fly in.
    • Note which direction the bird flew in. If you do not see which direction the bird flew in, make sure to look for exposed tail-feathers (rectrices) that are not covered in net.
  2. Image titled Safely Extract a Bird from a Mist Net Step 2
    Approach the net. Disentangle the feet first while keeping the legs in 'photographs grip'.
    • Do this while using your dominant hand to extract and hold the bird.
    • When putting the bird into a 'photographers grip', you want the legs of the bird in between your fore finger and middle finger while pushing your thumb on the bend of the leg.
    • Don't cradle the bird while it's tangled inside the shed of the net because it could tangle the bird even more.
  3. Image titled Safely Extract a Bird from a Mist Net Step 3
    Once you have put the feet in 'photographs grip', either pluck the net or blow on the feathers. This will reveal where the net is on the bird and the easiest way to remove it.
    • Blowing on the feathers can help the extractor see the net when it is wrapped around the bend of the wings, although plucking the net can help expose portions of still-tangled threads. Slipping the net over the neck will help the extraction go a lot faster if the bird seems stressed or uncomfortable.
    • Note if a bird is extremely tangled (ex. Wrens or larges bird such as Robins) cutting the net is a good solution but usually the last resort.
  4. Image titled Safely Extract a Bird from a Mist Net Step 4
    Once you have fully removed the bird, be sure to change your grip to the 'bander's grip'.
    • While changing your grip without letting the bird go, you want to use your fore finger and middle finger and place them around the neck of the bird. The palm of your hand will be against the back of the bird and your thumb and other fingers will be wrapped around the body with slight pressure on the bird.
    • Note that the 'bander's grip' is used in the banding process and makes the bird easily accessible, while it also provides a more calming hold.
  5. Image titled Safely Extract a Bird from a Mist Net Step 5
    Quickly walk to the nearest banding tent. Place a band on the bird in a quick and efficient fashion without releasing the bird until finished.

Things You'll Need

  • Binoculars
  • A experienced bird bander, if needed for support
  • Mist-Net: 1-2m high by 6-15m long
  • Poles: 10' in length by 4-11' high


  • The safest thing you as a bander can do is stay calm while handling and extracting the bird from the mist-net. Extracting a bird as quickly and efficient as possible while placing the bird in the 'bander's grip' rather than the 'photographers grip.'
  • When handling any species of bird you must take great care of this tiny living creature inside your hand. Without realizing it, any small move can cause some serious injury to the bird while you are handling. By following the guide you can help make the extracting process go much faster and cause less stress to the birds.
  • Banding birds always entails some sort of danger to the birds and taking every precaution will likely leave the bird unharmed, but in few instances birds are injured. In the 'photographers grip' a bird could struggle to be freed while frantically flapping its wings, or an extremely tangled bird in a net will likely cause one of a few injuries:
    • Broken Wing
    • Broken Leg
  • Stress can cause a bird to be in shock (ex. will not take off right away after being processed.)
  • If you are having trouble controlling the bird while it is flapping its wings you can use your empty hand to cup the bird.

Sources and Citations

  • Ralph, J.C. 2005. 'The Body Grasp Technique: A Rapid Method of Removing Birds from Mist Nets.' North American Bird Bander. 30: 65-70.

Article Info

Categories: General Bird Care