Last night I was walking my dog when I came across an injured racing pigeon. I've reported it to the owner who's coming to pick it up today, providing it's survived the night.....

I was thinking maybe I should of just put it out of its misery though, a cat has obviously mauled it badly.

What's the easiest/most humane way to kill an injured bird?

  • 2
    It was outdoors though? I was walking, i.e. participating in an outdoor activity. It's also relevant to hunting. I don't really see your argument @Unsung
    – user2766
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 9:22
  • 7
    I think this falls within topic - it is something that while not common, can happen to any of us when hiking/camping etc., and it could be useful to know for a couple of reasons (including a poor shot when hunting, I guess - would you waste another bullet?)
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:56
  • 2
    If it's a racing pigeon, the owner might've killed it anyway. I've always understood that injured birds and even just late returners are often 'culled' to improve the bloodline.
    – SQB
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 10:14
  • 1
    Get a firm hold of it's head and then give your wrist a good flick. If that don't do the trick then taking the head of with your machete sure will. Can't say I've ever cleaned a pigeon before, but the trick we use with grouse is to stand on the wings and give it a good yank on the legs, the meat will slide right out of the skin. Now I have to go google pigeon racing...
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 3:45
  • 1
    They're not wild, they're trained, like pets. They're homing pigeons so people take them out to x place, with others, and race them against their friends, etc. First one to return to their home coup wins.
    – user2766
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 15:06

6 Answers 6


In the UK you should probably contact the RSPCA or RSPB. I think RSCPA is probably best as they actually do welfare stuff whereas RSPB is about conservation. They should have the best knowledge of whether the bird needs to be killed and how best to do it. I presume other countries have similar charities.

If you need to kill the bird yourself I think the best way, without specialist equipment, is to wring its neck. If you do it properly it should kill the bird pretty much instantly. However, you need to make sure to commit fully and not do a half assed job that will cause it more suffering. This is mainly an issue if you are a bit squeamish about it.

Another option which I've heard is reasonably humane is to put the bird in a carrier bag and hit it hard against a wall. This seems horrible to me, but may be easier to actually do than to wring its neck

Here is a guide for how to kill a chicken by wringing its neck. The principles should be the same for other birds too. The basic process is as follows:

  • Hold the bird by the legs (or possibly around the body for small birds) in our weaker hand.

  • Place the back of the birds head in the crook between you thumb and fingers and hold firmly.

  • Pull the neck sharply downwards, bringing the neck backwards at the same time by twisting your hand and to push your knuckles into the bird's back.

  • The bird may still flap a lot for some time when dead. However, providing you broke its neck it will not be in any pain.

Another suggested method is to place the birds neck under a broom handle or similar. Stand on the handle to secure it, grab the bird's body and pull up hard.

  • 3
    Also depends on the bird, if the species is endangered, at risk, etc just call the RSPCA and do nothing yourself.
    – Aravona
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:37
  • 7
    I think I could do with more detail on how to wring it's neck. That was what I was wary of last night, how do I ensure it dies cleanly and without doing a "half assed job" :)
    – user2766
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:42
  • This is an excellent answer. I really like the bit about being committed to doing the deed. Made me blink.
    – Citizen
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 0:15

As a rancher, I routinely have to dispatch injured birds. If you don't have a knife handy, there are two ways: Grasp the bird by the head and use a whipping motion to decapitate. The body separates from the head. Toss the head. Another way is to do pretty much the same thing and rapidly rotate the body of the bird, but with less force - this breaks the neck in a split second, and there is no blood.

Note - don't try any of these techniques on anything larger than a pigeon or maybe a small grouse. Use a blade on larger birds.

There is not much point in trying to "save" hurt/sick birds. It would mean a very expensive trip to the Vet, and the outcome is almost always a lingering death. I spent $300 USD on a sick chicken recently... and it died. My motivation was to keep the rest of the flock from getting sick, but I think you can see how pricey it can get... And with no good result.

Save the poor thing's suffering and give it a quick death. It is the most humane thing you can do.


I was told the following by an old chicken-farmer when I was young:
'humane' is our (humans) notion/idea of the least amount of pain/stress/fear (which we believe takes place in the brains).

He believed that the brain in decapitated heads (and broken necks) remain operational for about 30 seconds (probably based on well known guillotine stories where the victims blinked their eyes for 15 to 30 seconds, could answer questions (with eye-blinking) and make facial expressions (to the executioner)).
Quite recently, researchers found that the brains of decapitated rats remained conscious for about 3.7 seconds.

  • He would smash the chickens with their heads against a wall (knocking them out) and then break their neck (or bleed them out, the drop in blood-pressure and lack of oxygen would keep them unconscious). He grabbed the bird by the legs (the knuckle-part of his index-finger was then near the anus of the chicken, which he therefore called his 'ass-finger', so the palm of his hand faced the chicken's head) and swung it hard in a circular motion (like a backhand in tennis). The centrifugal force ensured the back of the chicken's head was the first thing that hit the wall.
  • (Small) injured birds (laying on the ground) got knocked out with a swift blow from a rock or log (which usually also smudged their entire head (between the ground and object) which was kind of an intended side-effect).

He learned this from his father, who in turn learned this from his father, etc.

While finding references to the 'lesson' (above) that I was taught (instead of just posting something I once learned), I found the following blog describing a similar methodology, they swung the bird overhead:

Swing bird overhead, grabbing by legs, hitting head on log or rock, source: howlingduckranch.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/butchering-chickens/

They also note that they learned this technique from another farmer and that they:

once saw an Australian Aboriginal women do this with monitor lizards in the Outback. She drug it from its hole (after tracking it) by the tail and swung it overhead–exactly as I’m doing in the above photo–and brought its head down over a rock.

Ironically (for this answer), I once had a vacation-job at a slaughter-house. The pigs and cows that entered there were knocked out by a 'non-penetrating captive bolt pistol'. Think of it like a one-handed single-shot mini 'jackhammer' (which is what we called the thing). Variations of this thing are also used for in-the-field euthanasia (of animals).

So, it appears (to me at least) that what the farmer taught and practiced might indeed be the best way to go about it (since the underlying idea is identical in all references and even cultures): knock 'm out (optional side-effect: destroy head/brain), then finish-off the bird properly, for example by breaking it's neck as described in other answers (just make sure it doesn't wake up with a splittin' headache added to it's list of ailments once you are gone..).
Follow the warning from the other answer: Don't do a half-assed job!!!

That being said, It appears there is no need to put the bird in a plastic bag and swing it, in fact: it would be hard to take proper aim making it a piñata instead of hitting the bird head-first.

EDIT: partially due to the picture, this answer might appear to mostly advertise 'swinging the bird', while it is more intended to explain why the seemingly barbaric method of 'bashing in the head' is often the best humane way for birds that can no longer run/fly away from you (and simple: just find a rock or log). Also, it might be safer for yourself (you don't know for example what kind of disease the bird carries).

  • Great answer, thanks, tempted to say this is the answer. Tough call TBH
    – user2766
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 8:37

In situations like that, I wring the neck. Just grab the bird's head and twist it around and around. The skull will detach from the spinal column and kill the bird quickly. You have to actually kill the animal with your bare hands, but that's better than letting it suffer.


If it were a wild bird, I would call the nearest wildlife rehabilitator for instructions. Sometimes a bird can be saved, or at least they will gain information about what is going on with the local populations, which is valuable not just for them, but for others who may use their data. Scientists and government are increasingly finding that wildlife rehabilitators have the most actual data about local animal populations and what is happening to them. They also have lots of experience with injured animals of all types, care deeply about animals, and have developed skills for handling injured animals.


Decapitation. Cut the head with a cleaver, machete or axe. It is gruesome, and the body will flap (so I suggest you tie the legs and wings). But the bird will almost instantly die.

Check your local laws if the bird is endangered or protected. You do not want to be on the wrong side of the law when trying to be humane.