Sandhill Crane Surgery

Wally’s family is back in the news.  Peace River Wildlife Center’s faithful followers may remember a sandhill crane we called Wally.  He was a juvenile sandhill who suffered a broken leg in April 2014 when he got hit by a car near Walmart in Punta Gorda.  This past week we admitted an adult sandhill crane with a broken leg.  Aside from the family resemblance on the x-ray, we think this may be Wally’s mother since she came from the same area frequented by this crane family for years.


Wally’s mother, June, has been very calm in captivity—another sign that she is used to being around people.  Her calm demeanor is good in that it keeps her from further hurting herself when we have to medicate and treat her, but if she were not so habituated to people, perhaps she and her family members would not keep getting hurt.


This sandhill crane pair had been mating in an overgrown area before Walmart built their store there.  Normally after having been disrupted like that, the pair would have chosen a different area in their territory for future nesting activity.  It is possible that they continue to return there because of well-meaning people who put food out.  There are quite a few feral cats in that area also, and the food put out for them attracts all kinds of wildlife.  Since it is a fairly busy intersection with high speed traffic in all directions, it is not an ideal location for any animals.


Regardless of the reason for the cranes’ refusal to leave this high traffic area, PRWC will continue to do our best to alleviate the damages as they occur.  June’s leg was broken but not too badly displaced.  We splinted it hoping it would heal quickly.  After a week we checked the progress and knew more aggressive measures would be needed.  We called on our friends at Specialized Veterinary Services in Fort Myers.  These are the wonderful folks who helped us with our resident crane, Chickie Pants, when he needed cruciate surgery on his “knee.”


This time Dr. Scott Rose and his staff were more than up to the challenge.  They placed an external fixation device on June’s leg during a grueling surgery that lasted for hours.  The screws, rods and wires will hold the bone in place while it grows back together.  It is a much more stable construct that will make June more comfortable than just a splint as she heals.  It is difficult to appropriately stabilize the long leg bones on a bird like a crane, especially since they spend so much time walking, unlike some birds that spend more time on the wing.


We anticipate that June will be with us at PRWC for a few more weeks as she is on the mend.  Of course, as with all of the rehabilitating wildlife that will be released back out into the wild, she is not on display to the public.  Our goal is to keep the wild animals as wild as possible so as to cause the least amount of disruption in their lives as possible.  We do have over 100 other birds on permanent display at PRWC, open to the public seven days a week from 11a.m. to 4p.m.  These are birds that cannot be released, having been injured to the point of not being able to care for themselves in the wild.


Dr. Rose has agreed to come visit June for her check-up to avoid the stressful trip for her back down to his clinic.  He will check her progress in a week or so and orchestrate the removal of the hardware when it is time.  We are all anxious to get June back out to her family as quickly as possible.  Her mate, Ward, along with another juvenile (could it be the Beave?) are still out there patiently waiting for mom to return.

by–Robin Jenkins, DVM

June under anesthesia
June under anesthesia
June in recovery cage
June in recovery cage
Sandhill Crane (June's) x-ray
Sandhill Crane (June’s) x-ray