Falcon Medical Care

First up, a quick public service announcement:

Anyone missing an eclectus parrot in the Twin Cities area? One was found on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota and is now hanging out at The Raptor Center. If you're missing one, call TRC at 612-624-4745. The bird does not need a foster home or a new home, just looking for the owner.

A WORD OF WARNING: THIS POST MIGHT GET GROSS FOR SOME READERS! I was allowed in TRC's clinic this morning to observe a post operative exam of the injured falcon. We're going to see some of her injury, it might be kinda gross for those who have trouble with injections and medical procedures. There's not a copious amount of blood but there is a photo of some nasty looking bruising. If you think this might be too much to read while eating, quit reading after the broad-winged hawk photo.

Here's a new bird we're training in for educational programs at TRC, it's a first year broad-winged hawk. Don't let that cute cock of the head fool you, this bird is not sweet, it's a tad brain damaged. This bird was shot as a youngster in the nest in the Twin Cities area and still has the BBs in its head and somewhere in its back--hence the head tilt. We suspect that it has vision loss in its left eye (and possible hearing loss). When you look at it, the lights are on but there doesn't appear to be anyone home. I'm not sure if the shooting occurred by a bored kid or by someone who didn't take kindly to hawks nesting near their feeding station. However it happened, it was illegal and a shame.

When I came to TRC for my volunteer shift this morning, I did a quick verbal check to see if the peregrine we brought in on Saturday was still alive. I do educational programs and am not involved in the clinic. I know they are always busy in the clinic and didn't want to be underfoot to view the falcon myself. But, Alana, the vet working on the falcon, offered to give me a call when she was going to do a post operative check on the bird so I could take pictures and learn more about the injury.

They put the falcon under anesthesia in order to clean her surgical wounds and inspect her without stressing her out. Here is the X-Ray they took of her Saturday night. She had a compound fracture of her right leg. Know one know for sure how she got it. Did she bounce off of a car windshied? Did she crash land on pavement while hunting a pigeon? Did she hit a window on a building? Who can say?

Alana showed me where the fracture had pierced the skin and she had sutured that up. The bird really couldn't be in a better place for its injury, TRC specializes in avian orthopedic surgery.

So, Alana, cleared the feathers away from the leg (they don't shave 'em, they have to pull them out) and inserted pins to reset the bones. This is the falcon's X-ray after her surgery. There's a rod inside setting the bones straight that is connected to pins that go through the skin and are attached to another rod outside the leg to help stabilize the fracture while it heals.

Here's what it looks like from the outside. See the blue piece? That is the outside rod covered in surgical tape. If you look close, you can see the pins going into the skin that connect to the rod on the inside. Alana cleaned up that whole area to prevent infection. Note how green the flesh is on the leg? I asked if that was some type of medication--that's not what that is. That is bruising--raptors bruise green! I never knew that. So, for her type of injury, that color is normal. Alana said that some people will see that on a bird and mistakenly think it's gangrene but it's just a normal bruise. And I thought human bruises looked gross. Alana also said that when she first saw it, that told her the injury was three to five days old.

Feet are very important to birds--they use them when they are not flying. Even when sleeping, birds stand on one foot. Since this peregrine will be putting all her weight on one foot while her broken leg heals, she is at risk for an infection called bumblefoot. To prevent that, Alana put on some surgical tape to help cushion it the good food. They will keep a close eye on the foot when they check her bandages to prevent infection.

After her wounds were cleaned, the peregrine was given fluids. She had been starving and her weight was low. The above photo is the peregrine slowly coming out of anesthesia. Alana told the clinic volunteers that when she was awake, she was to get forty grams of quail. She wanted the bird to be hand fed to insure that she ate all the food. The volunteers carefully weighed out the quail and cut it up into bite sized pieces. The hope is that while you are holding the bird, someone can just hold forceps with meat to the beak and the bird will eat it. However, being in captivity and held by a human can stress the appetite right out of a bird and sometimes you have to force feed them. The volunteers were hoping that they didn't have to force feed the falcon. Here's a video of how she reacted to food:

Needless to say, she did not need to be force fed. If you're wondering why the dish is held in front of her, then removed, and then brought back to her, that's to help stimulate her to eat. If the meat just sits there, after a bite or two, the bird can lose interest and just play with the dish. But when the dish is removed and suddenly reappears with meat, the bird's food instinct kicks in and it takes a bite. Kind of an ADD thing. Sorry to everyone who can't view video. I tried to get a photo:

She's so fast that it came out blurry, but you get the idea.

This is the inside of the crate she is staying in. The clinic volunteers made a sort of donut shape for her to lean into so she doesn't have to put weight on her feet, but when she was put inside, she decided to stand. I didn't get any photos once she was in, she had more than enough paparazzi for the day and needs to recover.

And I should mention that she is getting all of this first rate medical care without health insurance. I've never met a raptor who has any kind of health policy. TRC survives on donations, and if you are feeling inclined to spend a few dollars, please consider donating a buck or two to TRC in her honor. She's case number 568.

I will make updates on her progress as I hear about them--good or bad. She still has many obstacles to overcome, but if a bird can survive the first twenty-four hours in the TRC clinic, their chances of recovery greatly increase. If she does end up having to be euthanized, at least she's being made as comfortable as possible and being well fed as opposed to starving over several days with a painful injury.