How to (ex)fix a broken bone, part II

Catching the osprey for release
Catching the osprey for release

also read: How to (ex) fix a broken bone part 1

We have a final update on the osprey that was admitted to Peace River Wildlife Center on October 19 with a broken wing.  I wrote about his surgery by Dr. Scott Rose, the chief of surgery at the Veterinary Surgery Center of Sarasota in one of my November blogs.

Dr. Rose applied an external fixation device, which holds the two ends of the fracture site in alignment so they can heal properly.  Instead of having to keep the entire wing immobilized, the ex-fix device maintains stability where we need it, while still allowing the rest of the wing full range of motion so the joints don’t freeze in place.

If the wing freezes up, even if the fracture site heals, the bird isn’t releasable because he can’t fly at all or not well enough to feed and care for himself.  If this osprey was going to be wild again, the ex-fix was his only shot.

External fixation device being applied to an osprey under anesthesia
External fixation device being applied to an osprey under anesthesia
The surgery was performed on October 23.  Pins were inserted through the skin perpendicularly into both ends of the bones at either side of the fracture site.  They are attached to each other just above the feathers by a crossbar of bone cement.

This is a fairly common procedure for people and pets like dogs and cats.  It is a little more of a challenge on birds because that species has thin, hollow bones.  The bigger challenge was that our patient was an osprey—one of the flightiest birds we treat (pun intended.)

The osprey didn’t start eating on his own until November 3rd.  In the meantime, we had to catch him up multiple times a day to give him medications and force fish down his throat.  If that sounds like a good time for the bird, I assure you it is even more joyous for the poor rehabbers who had to wrangle this erratic avian.

By October 25th, he had broken the cement crossbar at one end with his penchant for throwing hissy fits when we caught him for feeding.  He would fling himself onto his back, feet in the air, and thump his wings in an attempt to slap us in our faces—an attempt that was all too often successful.

By the time he was eating on his own and the threat of infection had passed, he had broken his device in two places—but somehow the construct remained stable.  He had also witch-slapped everyone in the place.

On November 19 we were able to remove the ex-fix device.  Within a week, the osprey was perching on the highest perch in his woodflight cage, so we enlarged the space he had available to him.  By December 4th he was getting around that enclosure with ease and he was moved to our off-site 100-foot flight cage for conditioning.

It’s hard to tell in a 25-foot enclosure whether a large bird can actually fly well enough to be released or not.  Once in the 100-foot flight cage, our osprey was at first reluctant to take off but soon started flying low across the floor.  Eventually he was swooping up to the high perches and banking back and forth.

A suspicious osprey plans his "escape"
A suspicious osprey plans his “escape”
One of his favourite games was to come flying right at his caretaker’s head.  This was also one of his final tests.  I quit ducking (kind of a test for me, too!) to see if he could navigate a quick maneuver to avoid crashing into my skull.  I think it goes without saying that he passed that test.  I hope you would be able to tell the difference if I had suffered a major head injury since last week.  But then again, maybe not.

After a few weeks of conditioning, the osprey was ready for release.  Distance flight skill: Check.  Banking: Check.  Rising, hovering, controlled rapid descents: Check, check, and check.  He was ready.

The osprey flies away
The osprey flies away

The day of his release, a cold front moved in and we were treated to gale-force winds.  Weighing the chance of him hurting himself during further captivity versus the imperfect nature of the weather, we decided to give him a shot.  He was taken back to the area where he was fished out of the canal three months before with shattered bones.

Thanks to the help of the concerned citizen who spotted him, Charlotte County Animal Control who rescued him, and Dr. Rose and staff for fixing him up, this is one lucky osprey.  He soared off toward the horizon without a look back.  Didn’t even say thank you.  But then again, he didn’t poop or regurgitate fish in the kennel in my car, so that’s thanks enough for me.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM