Every Bird Matters
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Vet Files

February 7, 2020

Success Stories: White Pelican Back In The Wild After Months in Care

This American White Pelican is a survivor. He was released at McNabney Marsh in Martinez, CA. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

After 143 days in care this resilient American White Pelican is back in the wild.

This huge bird came into care in September 2019 and it was finally released last week. He was originally found in Santa Rosa, CA with a smelly, infected, open fracture of the wingtip. It was treated at our San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center

On examination, we found a deep tunnel full of infected material open to the fracture zone. On radiographs, we could see that the bones were shattered right next to the proximal metacarpophalangeal joint. Two wingtip bones that are normally fused were not only broken free of each other, but had infected debris in the space between them.

White Pelican wing tip x-ray

Initially, clinic staff and veterinarian focused on getting the infection under control while simultaneously stabilizing the fracture with a splint/bandage combination. Infected tissue was removed under anesthesia, and the wound healed very well. Unfortunately, the bones did not fuse to each other like they need to do in order for the bird to fly. The bird had what is called a non-union, where fragments of bone persist in staying separate, and this non-union is one our vet had not encountered before. Consequently, she decided to try pinning it, inserting threaded cross pins in an ‘X’ pattern to force the two bones to be immobilized in relation to each other. Thankfully it worked.

After the pins were removed, our staff had to help this patient regain strength in its wings to prepare for release. White pelicans can be a bit difficult to get to fly in an aviary even when there is nothing wrong with their wings, and this bird was no exception. He just didn’t want to cooperate. So for this bird, Wildlife Center Manager Isabel Luevano made his physical therapy progress a personal priority and several times a week made him flap strongly while being safely supported in hand, and then would boost him over the pool, thus encouraging him to fly and land on the water; no small feat with a huge bird. All of the hard work by staff and volunteers paid off!

During recovery, the White Pelican received generous pool therapy at the San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue


May 9, 2019

Innovative Wound Treatment Leads to Clark’s Grebe Release after 105 Days!

Clark Grebe’s had a tricky hock lesion to treat.

A Clark’s Grebe that was found oiled in Goleta and transferred down to our Los Angeles Wildlife Center for care presented an interesting challenge for treatment. Although he was only lightly oiled, due to being stranded, cold, starving, and burned by the oil, he had dead skin on both of his hocks that had adhered to the bones, which was a big cause for concern. After a full day of intensive care, this grebe was able to be washed and begin the drying and waterproofing process. Over the course of his trips out to the pools and back in for waterproofing checks, it became clear that the hock lesions on this grebe were infected and would need further treatment.

For the next several months, our staff invested a lot of time into treating this bird’s injuries. This investment was not only to try hard to save this individual, but also because these injuries and infections are commonly seen in diving birds and present a significant treatment challenge in many species. The clinical care of patients like this helps us to figure out what works and what doesn’t. One important new tool in our success in treating severe infections like this bird had is an antibiotic-impregnated polymer gel designed for use in dental abscesses in dogs (see: ClindOral). Our vet got the idea after seeing a talk on sea turtle wound care at a conference–sea turtle patients also often need to be housed in the water while their wounds are treated, so have a lot in common with Western Grebes!

After 105 days in our care, all of the hard work and specialized veterinary treatment paid off! This beautiful Clark’s Grebe was finally ready for release on May 8th, he was taken out to Cabrillo Beach and returned to his natural home in the wild!

We want to give our staff a huge thank you for working so hard and applying so many innovative techniques and treatments to this patient’s care, making it possible for him to have a second chance!

After more than three months in care, the Clark’s Grebe was released back to the wild.

December 28, 2018

Vet Files: Innovative Treatment Saves Bufflehead With Bill Fractures

Female Bufflehead with multiple fractures of the bill after surgery to place pins and epoxy in place for its fractured mandible. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds/International Bird Rescue

Fast-setting epoxy was used to hold six tiny pins placed in both sides of this lady Bufflehead’s jaw. Photo by Dr. Rebecca Duerr/International Bird Rescue

Our veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, had to think creatively when a female Bufflehead came into care with multiple fractures of the bill. Buffleheads are North America’s smallest diving duck and this one weighed in at only 260g on arrival, making this patient’s injuries particularly difficult to treat.

The bones in her mandibles were very small, so Dr. Duerr decided to miniaturize a technique she had used successfully in the past on bigger bird bills. She placed angled pins into the bill on either side of each fracture through a piece of specialized bandage, which acts as a gasket between bill and epoxy. The pins were then embedded in quick-setting epoxy to hold them in place. Since this Bufflehead’s small bill was broken in so many spots, Dr. Duerr had to use very fine needles as pins and take extreme care when embedding them in epoxy so as to not make the apparatus too heavy for the little bird. It was then a matter of waiting to see how well this duck’s broken bones would heal.

Another big concern for this bird was her species. Buffleheads have very delicate feet that are not built for standing around like a mallard. Their toe skin can easily become damaged by being out of the water, which puts them at risk for tendon and bone problems. For this reason, we typically try to get patients like this one living in the water full time as soon as possible, even though orthopedic pins are not generally advisable to soak in water due to the risk of infection. In balancing the best approach to her recovery we decided her prognosis for a good outcome would be to let her swim in the pool despite the pins in her bill.

The pins holding her mouth together didn’t slow this Bufflehead down one bit! She spent almost two weeks swimming around in one of our outdoor pools, seemingly uninhibited by her unique apparatus. Once the pins were removed, the holes healed up quickly and she was soon ready for release. Thanks to the clever treatment and attentive care she received from the staff and volunteers at Bird Rescue, this resilient little Bufflehead returned to her natural home in the wild, just 26 days after she had been admitted.

After the pins were removed, the holes healed up quickly and the Bufflehead was soon released. Photo by Dr. Rebecca Duerr/International Bird Rescue

December 10, 2018

Patient of the Week: Black-crowned Night-Heron

With the fishing hook safely removed, the Black-crowned Night-Heron after recovery will be released back to the wild.

One fishing hook can make dinner miserable for any bird.

This month our veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr performed surgery on a beautiful Black-crowned Night-Heron at our Los Angeles Wildlife Center. The heron had ingested a hook which became lodged in its stomach tissue. During surgery Dr. Duerr created a small incision and was able to carefully remove the hook and stitch up the heron.

The patient is doing well and recuperating in one of our outdoor enclosures. We wish it a swift recovery!

X-ray shows fishing hook in Heron.

Black-crowned Night-Heron recuperating in the outdoor aviary.

February 22, 2018

Vet Files: Pelican Pouch Laceration

Large pouch laceration in this Brown Pelicans when she was admitted to our hospital.

On January 27, we received a female adult Brown Pelican with a very large pouch laceration affecting the entire right side of her pouch. She was captured by two awesome local fishermen who have rescued injured birds to bring to us before—they noticed the large hole in her pouch and realized she needed help. Pelicans with large injuries to their pouch are generally completely unable to eat since all the fish they catch fall out. The birds slowly starve while trying to eat.

When this lady came to us, she was very skinny and very hungry. Our staff used skin staples to temporarily close the hole in her pouch while she replenished herself on our menu. Once she was medically more stable, we prepared for a long surgical procedure.

Four hands! Drs. Duerr and Purdin team up to close the bird’s large pouch laceration from both ends simultaneously.

Our veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr invited her husband (also a wildlife vet), Dr. Guthrum Purdin, to come stitch from the other end and meet in the middle, which worked out quite well! The wound had a badly damaged area that lead to the removal of a piece of the pouch and the surgeons taking a tuck, and a short section near the bill tip that was left open due to its closeness to the mandible. Despite being only about 1mm thick, pelican pouch heals fastest if it is sutured in two layers with fussy small stitches, which makes it time-consuming to repair but reduces the amount of time the bird has to stay in captivity. We are reasonably confident this wound was caused by a fish hook ripping the tissue.

Brown Pelican starting to wake up after a long surgery to repair a large pouch laceration. Note the wavy stripe area near the center–this is where a portion of the pouch had to be removed and a bit of tailoring was needed. Those darkly pigmented pouch stripes normally run parallel to the jaw.

At the bird’s checkup last week, the sutures were almost ready to come out and this now feisty lady was flying really well out in our aviary. We are happy to report that she is doing great and we expect to release her as soon as the incision has fully healed!

Gorgeous female Brown Pelican out in our aviary a few days after surgery. This is breeding season for Brown Pelicans, and our girl may have missed the action this year due to her injuries, but you can see a bit of her breeding colors in the bright red at the tip of her bill – Photo by Angie Trumbo