EmerAid Feeding Protocols For Starving Or Emaciated Seabirds

Author: Dani Nicholson, licensed wildlife rehabilitator specializing in seabirds.
Date: January 29, 2011

Intake Examination:

  1. Blood Draw — Collect blood to run a packed cell volume (PCV) and total protein (TP). If unable to obtain a blood sample, use treatment protocol 1 until you are able to obtain a sample.
  2. Temperature — Stop exam if below 38ºC (100ºF). Warm the bird before continuing.

    Place seabirds in a room warmed to no less than 24-25ºC (75-77ºF). If the bird’s temperature does not rise to normal (39-41ºC or 102-106ºF) within approximately an hour or if the bird’s temperature is dangerously low, place a space heater in front of the crate, and possibly place a heating pad underneath the crate. Place a towel between the cage and the pad. Monitor the bird closely by visually watching the bird as well as taking its temperature often.

  3. Weight — See Table 1 below

Table 1. Normal body weight in seabirds *

Species, common nameSpecies, scientific nameNormal weight range (grams)
Cormorant, Brandt’sPhalacrocorax penicillatus2103
Cormorant, Double-crested Phalacorax auritus1400-2000
Grebe, Clark’sAechmophorus clarkii800-900
Grebe, Eared Podiceps nigricollis218-375
Grebe, HornedPodiceps auritus327-528
Grebe, Pied-billedPodilymbus podiceps343-551
Grebe, WesternAechmophorus occidentalis795-900**
Gull, WesternLarus occidentalis700-1000
Loon, CommonGavia immer3800-4480
Loon, Pacific Gavia pacifica1400-1700
Loon, Red-ThroatedGavia stellata1150-1980
Murre, CommonUria aalge600-700
Pelican, BrownPelecanus occidentalis2500-3700
* Weights vary due to sex and season
** Body weight up to 1818 grams has been seen in Western grebes.

Please note: When using one of the treatment protocols described below, EmerAid Carnivore can be substituted short-term for EmerAid Piscivore, the first semi-elemental diet designed for the critically ill fish-eater.

Treatment Protocol 1 — Starvation
(PCV < 30%, TP < 2 g/dL)*
Quantity per tube feeding – 7% of body weight (kg)

For instance a 1,000-gram bird could be gavaged up to 70 ml of fluid. Administer the fluid very slowly, and stop if fluid begins to well up in the back of the throat. If the bird is unable to hold 7%, then gradually work up to this volume.

Upon Intake: Gavage or tube warm lactated Ringer’s solution (LRS) per os (PO) or subcutaneously (SC)
1 hour later:25% dilution of EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later:LRS (PO, SC)
1 hour later:35% dilution EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later:LRS
1 hour later: 45% dilution EmerAid Piscivore
2nd Day*LRS
1 hour later: 55% dilution EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later: 65% dilution EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later: 75% dilution EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later:85% dilution EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later:100% EmerAid Piscivore, made as directed per label instructions
2 hours later:LRS

NOTE: If bird is still dehydrated, you may add another LRS mid-day replacing one EmerAid tube feeding.

Treatment Protocol 2 — Severe Starvation
(PCV < 20%, TP < 1 g/dL)*
Quantity per tube feeding – 7% of body weight (kg)

For instance a 1,000-gram bird could be gavaged up to 70 ml of fluid. Administer the fluid very slowly, and stop if fluid begins to well up in the back of the throat. If the bird is unable to hold 7%, then gradually work up to this volume.

IntakeLactated Ringer's solution (LRS) (PO, SC)
1 hour later:10% EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later: LRS
1 hour later: 20% EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later: LRS
1 hour later: 30% EmerAid Piscivore
2 hours later: LRS
2nd Day*LRS
Same as Day 1 Except give one LRS tubing first, and then give 40% EmerAid Piscivore feedings all day.
3rd Day*Recheck blood and assess bird’s overall condition
Same as Day 2 Except give one LRS tubing first, and then give 50% EmerAid Piscivore feedings all day.

Continue until blood levels and bird’s energy can tolerate higher percentages. In rare cases, it may take up to 4-5 days for a severely emaciated bird to tolerate EmerAid as directed on the label, and possibly 5-6 days to eat solid food.

These protocols are not an exact science, but merely guidelines. Originally these protocols were used for starving and emaciated pelicans, but they are now used for all seabirds in similar states. Feel free to contact me with comments, questions, suggestions at dani.r.nicholson@gmail.com.— Dani Nicholson

Dani Nicholson is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in California. Dani was a home-based wildlife rehabilitator for 6 years, prior to opening Pacific Wildlife Care in 2007. She has served as the Center’s director for 5 years and as President. Dani now focuses on helping Pacific Wildlife Care by rehabilitating songbirds from her home facility. She was also an educator for Pacific Wildlife Care, caring for and providing outreach with a turkey vulture named ‘Ms. Handsome’ for several years. Dani worked with The Marine Mammal Center at the San Luis Obispo Operations site as a volunteer supervisor and medical staff from 2002 through 2015. Dani has worked with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network in California since 2003 and she maintains her 24-hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) certification. Dani began her own non-profit corporation named Willow Tree Wildlife in 2014, providing educational outreach with her federally permitted California brown pelicans named Morro and Solimar. Dani is currently Treasurer of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, a member of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, and the California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators.