Peace River Wildlife Center admitted a glossy ibis this past week that had been hit by a car. The bird’s wing had been fractured at the distal end of the humerus (near the “elbow”.) White ibises are quite common in our area of southwest Florida, but we do not often see glossy ibises. This is a reverse trend worldwide, where the white ibis is a rare find outside of the southeastern US coastline and into the Caribbean, while the ubiquitous glossy ibis is also found in Europe, Asia, Africa, India and Australia.
The glossy ibis has dark feathers that may look black in low light, but seen in bright sunshine, gleam like bronze highlighted with brilliant green and purple tones. He has a downward curving, or decurved, bill which he uses for tactile foraging in and around shallow fresh water and swampy areas, eating primarily insects and their larvae as well as small arthropods. He also feeds on land, locating prey visually, using his long bill to probe into the soil.
Our primary goal at PRWC is to rehabilitate injured wildlife and get it back out into the wild. When we get an animal for which that goal is unattainable, we have to assess whether or not that particular individual would make a good permanent resident here or at another facility. Not every bird is comfortable being so close to what they perceive (not necessarily incorrectly) as one of their largest predators—man. A few calm down over time as they come to trust us, while some never do. Our recent glossy ibis patient was a refreshing change of pace in this usual dance to trust. He has been very calm since his arrival.
This ibis had to have part of his wing amputated due to the damage caused by the trauma from the accident. The bone was too severely injured to pin or plate back together so it could heal. Birds’ bones are thin and hollow which is advantageous for facilitating flight, but not so much for surviving impact. The bone shatters into tiny pieces and is rendered useless.
Normally after such a surgery, a bird will take days to recover from the anesthesia, be terrified by the frequent bandage changes and confinement within a tiny cage designed to limit his movements and possible self-inflicted further damage, not want to eat due to the unfamiliar surroundings and the antibiotics and pain medication being given to him. Once the bird is strong enough he will be moved from a hospital cage to our woodflight habitats, where we recover the releasable birds away from public eye. After a long period of acclimation, if the bird seems content he will then be tested on display. This entire ordeal can take weeks to slowly go through all of the steps in the bird’s recovery process, preparing him both physically and mentally for the changes and challenges ahead.
Our new glossy ibis friend was out on public display, at least temporarily, after only a few days. We often have to keep amputation stumps wrapped so that the bird does not beat it against the cage wall and open the delicate tissue. That was not the case for this bird, who after only two days was able to have his stump left unwrapped which will help speed the healing process. He was unwilling to eat on his own in the hospital cage, which is not unusual since he probably does not recognize what we are offering and the manner of presentation as “food.” (Imagine you were abducted by aliens and placed in a box with a live cow. The aliens are confused when you refuse to eat, since they have done their homework and know that humans eat “beef.”) In the shore bird habitat, a much more natural environment, he will be surrounded by other birds, be even more at ease and hopefully learn from their example.
We hope our new glossy ibis will continue to heal and feel at home here at PRWC. He will be a beautiful addition to our permanent residents on educational display, open seven days a week from 11a.m. to 4p.m. for public visits.