• String, cotton thread, fishing line, etc. can cause grave damage to pigeons’ feet
  • May cause loss of toes or entire foot
  • Infections can spread from foot through leg and beyond
  • At a distance, birds may be seen attempting to walk and falling over. This may have various causes, but one can be feet tied together with thread.
  • Feet with blackened, swollen parts may be a sign of embedded thread.

This foot required amputation

With care, most of this bird's toes were saved.


In cases of recent entanglement, and fairly loose thread, this can be relatively simple. When thread is embedded or of long-standing, it can be a delicate process. In the worst cases, see above left, the solution may be to have the entire foot amputated below the ‘ankle’ joint.

Many tangles can be resolved with a small kit comprising such items as a seam splitter, small nail scissors, and small tweezers.

Before you start examine the foot carefully. Yellow bits are a sign of infection that will need to be treated with antibiotics. Blackened flesh is dead and dangerous to poke about in as it could cause a severe bleed. If the string has done significant damage to the foot then it might be a good idea to take it to the vet who will have specialised instruments to do the job and also be able to provide emergency treatment if there is a bleed.

I usually start by rubbing Bach Rescue Cream (available from Boots and Neals Yard in the UK) into the foot, this softens any muck and, in my experience, also loosens the string, probably because it reduces swelling.

I often have to improvise but these are some of the things I use when treating string injuries:

  • Baby scissors with blunt ends, because these can be used to snip thread that is embedded into the skin without cutting the flesh.
  • A seam splitter (a dressmaking tool for picking stitches which has a blunted end) for separating the thread from the flesh before cutting it.
  • Antibacterial cream to rub in the wound.
  • Painkiller – I use a single drop of Metacam (available from the vet) in the inside tip of the pigeon�s beak as a painkiller
  • Cotton buds, sterile gauze and cornflour to treat minor bleeds.
  • A pair of small sharp scissors to cut the thread.

When you examine a bird always ensure that the head is raised so that there is no danger of regurgitation that could cause it to aspirate and die. It sometimes helps to lay a piece of gauze over its face to reduce struggling.

In a lot of cases the thread or string is visible and therefore quite easy to remove just by patiently snipping and unwinding. It sometimes takes several attempts, with rests for the pigeon and the rescuer in between. I always cut the bit that links the feet together first, so that if the pigeon escapes it is that little bit better off. Then I start with the loosest bits, snipping and gently unwinding, taking care not to pull so that the thread doesn’t cut further into the flesh.

If there is any bleeding at all I stop what I am doing, apply direct pressure to the area and hold the foot up in the air to inhibit the blood flow. For major bleeds I have had to use a tourniquet, but the pigeon has also needed treatment for shock.

When all the thread is removed I treat open wounds with antibacterial cream, otherwise I rub Bach Rescue Cream into the foot immediately and continue to do that 3 times a day. I usually keep the pigeon for some time after the string removal, to treat any other related problems. Sometimes the thread or string will that tied the back toe inward, or twisted other toes and splinting will be required. The only times I release immediately is when there has been no damage to the foot because it has been caught early enough.