The Tiny Surgery Patient
On May 4, International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center was contacted by biologists about an injured adult male Western Snowy Plover they had captured at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve in Union City, CA. On arrival, radiographs revealed the bird had suffered a bad wing fracture, with its humerus bone in 3 pieces, plus it had a lacerated patagium (the web of skin that connects the shoulder to the wrist on the wing). Humerus fractures generally require surgical pinning if a wild bird is to have any hope of ever being able to fly again.
Despite not the best prognosis for this type of fracture healing well in such a tiny bird, not to mention their minuscule size (only 6 inches in length) providing a surgical challenge, our team decided to give fixing this bird a go. Due to the status of Western Snowy Plovers as Species of Special Concern within California, and Threatened status on the Endangered Species list, we had extra incentive to try to get this bird fixed up and back out into the wild.
Surgical repair was nerve-wracking but this feisty little bird did great through anesthesia and Dr. Rebecca Duerr, Bird Rescue’s staff veterinarian, was able to get the three pieces of bone correctly positioned on the pin after repairing the wing wound. Due to the size of the bone and delicate placement of the pin near the elbow, she decided to not attempt to place cross pins, which are often done in cases like this in larger birds to create an external fixator that allows the wing to be unrestrained while it heals. Instead, she opted to simply tape the wing to the body to provide the extra stability needed for the bone to start to heal.
We are happy to report that 18 days in, this tiny patient is doing well, being a good patient running around his enclosure and eating on his own. The pin will be removed next week, and physical therapy will begin in earnest. Since the bird has been healing so well so far, we are guardedly optimistic about his prognosis for being able to fly again.
About Snowy Plovers
Along the San Francisco Bay there are about 200 nesting Western Snowy Plovers, including about 125 at Eden Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. The Pacific coast breeding population extends from the state of Washington, to Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Male Snowy Plovers are good fathers. Though their offspring are able to feed themselves, the fathers watch over their chicks and will valiantly chase off predators or gather chicks underwing to shield them from weather or other risks.
These birds build their nests on sandy beaches, and their nesting areas are easily disturbed by hikers and beach goers. You can help protect this species by being extra cautious when you visit the beach or wetlands – give birds plenty of space and pay attention to signage that indicates nesting birds may be nearby. You can also help spread the word and educate others about Snowy Plovers – little birds like these might be hard to spot if you don’t know to look for them!