Saving two birds with one bone

My (doctor’s imposed) New Year’s Resolution is to modify my diet.  During a recent check-up, I was given a list of things I should not eat.  It includes everything I consider edible:  caffeine, carbonated beverages, alcohol, milk, chocolate, spicy, fried, fatty, and fast foods.  That pretty much sums up my complete diet.  What else is there?  Mashed potatoes?  No, that has butter and cream.  I’m at a loss.  This diet may help resolve my symptoms, but it will definitely kill two birds with one stone—unfortunately, one of those “birds” is a Robin.

While it’s an efficient method for solving problems, killing two birds with one stone is not necessarily the easiest way to take out a raptor and a wading bird.  But then neither were the pellets that were fired into two of Peace River Wildlife Center’s recent patients.

On November 28, a wood stork was admitted to PRWC with a bloody, drooping wing.  Found next to a roadway, we initially suspected he had been clipped by a car, but x-rays showed what appeared to be a single shotgun pellet in the wing and a broken bone.  The bird was most likely shot out of the air or off of a high perch and fractured his left ulna in two places upon impact with the ground.

A few weeks later, on December 12, a red-shouldered hawk was admitted with a suspected gunshot wound.  Again, x-rays showed a pellet–this time from an air rifle– near an impact fracture.  The left ulna of this bird was also involved, but the nature of the fracture is likely due to the pellet itself.  A high-velocity, focal impact caused the bone to shatter into many fragments.

Birds’ wing bones are similar to those of our forearms.  Both species have two bones, a radius and an ulna, next to each other in that part of the arm or wing.  While the larger bone in a mammal’s arm (or front leg) is the humerus, the ulna is the larger bone in a bird.  Both the hawk and the stork had their larger, ulna fractured in more than one place, but their radius bones were intact.  With little displacement and an internal stabilizing force, the broken bones were treated with a splint.

After a few weeks of stabilization, the bones were fused.  Since birds have to be as lightweight as possible for flight, their bones are hollow.  This gives them one medical advantage over mammals:  The thin bones heal much faster than our solid bones.  After some physical therapy and flight testing, both birds were deemed ready for release. 

For better or worse, the birds were taken back to the areas from which they came.  Since these were singular incidents from two different neighborhoods and two different types of ammunition, the birds are not considered to be at risk of being shot again.  Hopefully, the assailants have learned a valuable lesson and will not repeat these heinous deeds on another animal or escalate the violence to include other people.

Both patients did well in our care at PRWC.  They were both fairly calm in captivity while being handled and medicated on a daily basis.  Unlike some highly anxious birds, these two were able to eat on their own, which not only reduces further stress, but helps immensely with the healing process. 

A good plain of nutrition is the backbone for health.  I know what to feed the birds in our care.  Now, if only I could figure out what to feed myself.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Wood stork x-ray
Wood stork x-ray
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