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What is the difference between hard and soft release?

A hard release is a release in which an animal is simply allowed to exit a transport container or is let go from the hand with no further care or feed provision. It is most appropriate for animals which have been held in captivity for only a short time, for adult animals, for some selected species and for animals being released back into their own territory.

Soft release involves continuing care for animals at the release site, particularly back-up feeding and requires a greater commitment of time and effort than does hard release. Soft release is particularly important for hand reared animals, particularly of species which need to learn about their surroundings and need to learn survival skills such as hunting. This method also allows previously hand reared birds to become fully independent, as no animal should be released when still too trusting towards humans or domestic animals. It is also appropriate for adults, which have been maintained in captivity for prolonged periods or are being released at a site distant from their original location, as the original location might not be suitable.

The most important aspects of songbird rehabilitation is the provision of a natural diet, environment and associations that closely duplicate what songbirds would be exposed to in the wild. This can be achieved by building and using dedicated soft release aviaries. Raising young birds outside needs to be done for a suitable period of time to expose them to the natural surroundings in the same way they would have been exposed in the wild, but in a safe and controlled manner. This allows them the opportunity to develop their abilities in the same time frame had they fledged in the wild. With so many different species of birds, release aviaries can and should be designed and adapted according to the needs of the species being placed into it.