I'd like to share with you how I have learned to make what I consider to be the world's greatest catch nets for birds. Let me start by saying that the design for these nets is not mine. It was passed on to me many years ago by my dear friends and avicultural mentors Arlan and Loretta Vaughn.
So many times I have seen people hurt or stress their birds terribly by using nylon fishing nets to catch them. The nets that I use are both easier to catch and hold birds in and are also much less stressful and harmful to the birds being caught. There are several things that you will need to keep in mind when you are making these nets. As long as these essential elements are met, you can customize them any way you want to fit your specific needs.
The first rule to remember is that birds stay calmer when they are in the dark. This is why a magician is able to keep doves quiet and motionless in his hat or sleeve for twenty minutes while he performs his act. So when you buy the material to make your bird catch nets from, choose material that is thick enough to keep most of the sunlight out. I usually buy the thickest and softest material I can find that also looks pretty durable. Remember that form follows function. So ugly doesn't matter when choosing netting material. My favorite net is made of some “butt ugly” thick gold 70's drapery looking material, but it works flawlessly every time I need it and has served me for ten or twelve seasons now with no signs of stopping. I have already replaced the handle on it twice but that ugly old material is still hanging tough.
The second thing to keep in mind is that you want the material to be cut and sewn so that it hangs down very long. The net that is pictured in this article is made of dark blue denim-ish material that hangs down 38 inches from the hoop to the tip. The reason it has to be so long is that you want there to be enough extra room so that when you catch the bird and he falls to the bottom of the net, you can flip the net over and have the body weight of the bird hold the upper material against the hoop so he can't fly back out. I have caught Impeyan Pheasants and Eared Pheasants (which are both very big, powerful birds) in these nets and have had no problems at all. You will also need some heavy thread to hand sew the material on with.
The next thing to do is to select the frame and handle that you want to use. What I do is search garage sales and sporting goods stores to find fishing nets that will make the most suitable bird catch nets. I like to use oversized hoops to give me a bigger target to catch flying or running birds with. Most of my best nets have hoops that are about 18 inches across. Be sure to get nets with sturdy yet fairly lightweight handles. I own eight of these nets in total, and they are all different shapes and sizes but most of them have oversized hoops and at least 24 inch handles. I have one with a 48 inch long handle, but I think it is really too awkward and hard to maneuver inside my pens. Most of my birds are too fast for me when I use it. I think the perfect handle length is about 30 inches. That is long enough to give you plenty of reach as they fly or run by but not so long as to be unwieldly.
So once you have bought a suitable fishing net, and your material and some heavy thread. The next thing to do is to cut off all the nylon netting and throw it away. Then cut wrap one edge of the material around the hoop and sew it all the way around. You may end up with a triangular gap right where the handle connects to the hoop. You can cut a small piece of material to sew in to close it up. That's about all there is to it really.
Discussing all the different techniques and factors involved in effectively catching different types of birds in different situations is something I'd really like to write about in a future article. Just to give you a few quick hints though. First off, ALWAYS put on a pair of safety goggles before you go out to catch birds. I'm dead serious about that. Again, form follows function!! Yes, I'm quite sure (and my lovely wife is always quick to point out) that I look like the “King of the Dorks” with my safety goggles on and my chicken poop smeared t-shirt, but this my friends is all part of the high drama world of chicken farming!! Most of my birds have both very sharp spurs and very sharp toenails. I learned a long time ago that when a bird is flying by you and trying his best to stay out of your net, he can tear the daylights out of your face without even trying to.
After thirty some years of catching birds I have developed kind of a “lacrosse” style in most circumstances. When I am catching birds (quail, pheasants, or game bantams) in fairly large pens, I like to get one other person to help me slowly drive them into a corner of the pen until they get nervous and start to take to the air. Then I single out the bird I want to catch and just stand there and hold the net out at the right time and height so I can catch them out of the air as they fly by. Or if they run by me I lean down and hold the net out and scoop them up as they pass. Then I just spin the handle a half a turn so they are secure in the net. This works so much better than chasing them back and forth until they are exhausted and eventually pinning them against the ground or up against the side of the pen. It definitely takes some practice, but if you can learn to efficiently catch them out of the air, you actually run far less risk of injury to them and they don't get near as stressed out.
One final thing to remember is always try to catch birds in the cool of the morning. Don't ever catch birds in the heat of the day. Birds are not all that great at dealing with overheating and they are very susceptible to heat stress. Also it is never a good idea to move birds to any new surroundings in the evening or at night. It is best to give them all day to get acclimated to a new pen. I hope some of this helps some of you. Thanks and take care.