Spinal Trauma Rehabilitation – Magpie Anton’s Story

Admission – 28/06/2016

Anton, an immature magpie, came to us as in June 2016. He has been found hiding in a greenhouse after being injured and unable to fly. At admission we found a subacute fracture of radius and ulna of his left wing. The fracture has been treated conservatively and splinted accordingly. Anton made a full and uneventful recovery, and four weeks later he has been successfully soft released. Anton stayed in the area and has been seen daily returning for some snacks.

Update – 20/08/2016

The last three weeks, after we opened the release aviary, magpie Anton stayed in the closer vicinity and came back almost every day for food and to visit some old friends, in particular magpie Ebony. However, today we have been shocked to find Anton near his release aviary lying on his back and being unable to walk or stand. Although we don’t know what has exactly happened, the admission assessment revealed very quickly that our unlucky magpie fellow Anton suffered a severe impact trauma, which has resulted in a spinal contusion with subsequent partial paralysis of both wing and legs. 

Rehabilitation Of Brain And Spinal Trauma Patients

The treatment of corvids in general, but in particular the treatment of spinal injuries in birds can be a controversial topic and is handled inconsistently. Apart from the disappointing species related fact that corvids are often not treated and rehabilitated at all, a spinal trauma or spinal injury with partial or complete paralysis of wings, legs or both, is commonly seen as an acceptable reason for an immediate euthanasia. And even if a rehabilitation attempt is undertaken, often enough these birds are hastily euthanised after only a couple of days without significant improvement. Our own experiences, rehabilitation approach and results are different, focussing on birds without a fracture or on birds with non-displaced spinal fractures only. It has to be noted that displaced spinal fractures usually result in irreversible damage to the spinal cord and a recovery is very unlikely. In these cases euthanasia is probably the kindest option.  However, these kind of decisions have to be made on a case by case basis. In all other cases outlined above, a treatment attempt should be considered. If there is no noticeable improvement within a fortnight, chances of recovery are remote. However, as soon as there is a noticeable improvement observed, chances of a full recovery will increase markedly over time. Under these circumstance the rehabilitation process and timeline will be extended and adapted accordingly. The video clip below shows some of the milestones of Anton’s rehabilitation process and recovery including his second successful soft release. 

Considerations For The Early Rehabilitation Phase

Magpie Anton is a typical example, which proves that birds with spinal injuries should be given a second chance and that these birds can make a full recovery. At admission Anton was unable to stand or walk at all. He was able to fly short distances, but in a very uncoordinated way, which did suggest a mild coexisting concussion. As in any other rehabilitation situation, the rehabilitation process needs to be frequently adapted according to the degree of neurological deficit and should also take the personality of the individual concerned in account. The treatment usually starts off with a secure and padded hospital box in a quite and dimmed light setting, with the primary goal to keep the bird calm and the blood pressure low, without using any restraints (e.g. bird harness or sling). This is in particular important during the first week, as the risk of a sudden neurological deterioration is highest during the first 24 hours after the trauma. Any bleed or haematoma within spine or brain will lead to a compression of the surrounding structures, also resulting in an additional perifocal swelling or oedema, which usually peaks at 72 hours and persists for about 5 days. These findings might explain a second mortality peak commonly seen at the third day post accident and they also justify the necessity to give any bird with a brain or spine injury enough time and a chance to recover. Based on these facts and our own experiences, it becomes evident that the 14 day rule seems to be a good compromise. 

Longterm Rehabilitation Of Brain And Spinal Trauma Patients

For the next phase of the rehabilitation process, a padded play pen or baby cot works very well, which allows the bird to exercise in a safe environment, as the bird is usually not in full control of his or her movements and may be prone to injuries. Not unsurprisingly cleanliness is paramount, primarily to avoid additional damage to and contamination of the plumage, which is at risk to excessive wear and tear in particular in birds, which are unsteady and prone to falls. The added interior of the padded pen has to be chosen carefully, to take again all these facts in account. This also obviously includes water dishes to avoid accidental drowning in unsteady patients. When the bird has regained his or her abilities to control its movements, a transfer into a small safe aviary can be attempted to allow more freedom, entertainment and exercise. However, the progress has to be monitored closely, as frequent adaptations of the aviary setup may be necessary to adapt and optimise the rehabilitation process and to minimise any remaining risks of falls or injury. The final step of the birds recovery will be the transfer into a larger free flight soft release aviary. It goes without saying that these kind of bird patients are not suitable for a hard release at all. Soft release is the only viable option for any young or long-term patient allowing a gradual reintroduction back into the wild. 

Top 10 Mistakes Made In Corvid Rescue And Rehabilitation

Update – 02/11/2016

Magpie Anton made a full recovery and has been successfully soft released for the second time. Anton teamed up with previous inmate Ebony, who has been also soft released together with Anton. Both birds stayed close by and are frequently visiting our garden, even a year after their final release. Stay safe Anton and Ebony!

Blackbird Herbie

Blackbird Herbie

Admission – 15/06/2017

Herbie, a blackbird nestling, came to us as after being caught by a cat. Herbie suffered superficial wounds around his back and right hip. Additionally, we found a sprain injury of his right leg. The routine faecal float test revealed a severe coccidia infection. Herbie has been treated accordingly and settled in very well. It took just a couple of days for Herbie to fledge. He then has been moved from his hospital box into a much larger flexarium, which is a soft fabric indoor aviary, to allow him to exercise his wings and leg without damaging his developing plumage. His superficial wounds healed very well. The mild paralysis of his leg, caused by the sprain injury, did also resolve completely. 

Blackbird Herbie

Update – 03/07/2017

When it became clear that Herbie was reliably eating by himself, we transferred him from the indoor flexarium into our outdoor release aviary, where he joined blackbird Marcia. Birds which have been in care for more than a few days should be reacclimatised by housing in an outside aviary for a period of time (generally about two weeks) before release. Fledglings also require an oppertunity to exercise to develop sufficient fitness prior to their release. The exposure to the elements will also encourage preening and ensure that the plumage is returned to normal waterproofing, which is important for any bird species. 

Blackbird Herbie

Update – 22/09/2017

Today blackbird Herbie has been successfully released. Stay safe Herbie!

Blackbird Herbie

 

Blackbird Marcia

Blackbird Marcia

Admission – 28/04/2017

Blackbird Marcia came to us three weeks after been rescued by a well meaning person, who found the bird as a nestling being out of the nest on the ground. Unfortunately, a wrong diet has been fed to the bird, which led to a very poor plumage and delayed general development. Marcia suffered also from an untreated coccidia infection worsened by a generally weakened immune system due to lack of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Additional plumage damage has been inflicted by keeping the fledgling bird in a metal cage. Marcia appeared also clearly imprinted, as she has been raised by her own. Luckily, the finder didn’t release Marcia as initially intended, but only because of concerns regarding cats visiting the garden. This was the main reason why Marcia has been brought to us eventually, which saved her live and gave her another chance.

Blackbird Marcia

Although Marcia’s plumage might not look too bad at the first glance, one should not forget that most plumage related problems will manifest themselves at a later stage. Feathers and flight are the primary facets of bird rehabilitation, which are sometimes overlooked by inexperienced and even seemingly experienced rescues and rehabbers. Feather condition is as critical during the course of release for birds as is the ability to fly. Any type of damage to the feather structure will impede a bird’s ability to fly, to be waterproof and to thermoregulate. In short, birds with compromised feather condition have a low survival rate following being released. To further compound the problem, the majority of birds have only one annual moult, the first complete one usually occurring in their second year. 

Blackbird Marcia

Update – 28/05/2017

It took Marcia five months to replace all damaged and prematurely lost feathers. Marcia was unable to fly for many weeks, which would have been her death sentence in the wild. She would have been unable to protect herself from the elements, rendering her unable to maintain her body temperature and unable to forage. Marcia has spent most of the time in our sheltered soft release aviary, where she could exercise and explore freely, but where she also had the chance to find shelter and warmth when needed. 

Update – 22/09/2017

Today blackbird Marcia has been successfully released. Stay safe Marcia!

Blackbird Marcia

Blackbird Orwell

Blackbird fledgling Orwell

Admission – 13/08/2017

Orwell is a fledgling blackbird, who has been caught and injured by a cat. He suffered a puncture wound to his left wing as well as sprain injury of his left leg. Orwell has been treated accordingly, which did include a course of antibiotics to counteract a potentially fatal infection transmitted by the cat contact. Orwell settled in very quickly and was eager to be fed. A couple of days later blackbird Orwell has been moved from his hospital box into a much larger flexarium, which is a soft fabric indoor aviary, to allow him to exercise his wing and leg without damaging his developing plumage. The puncture wound to his wing healed very well. The mild paralysis of his leg, caused by the sprain injury, which did obviously involve soft tissues and femoral nerve, has also completely resolved. 

Blackbird fledgling Orwell

Update – 26/08/2917

Today Orwell has been moved into our soft release outdoor aviary, as he is now independently feeding. Birds which have been in care for more than a few days should be reacclimatised by housing in an outside aviary for a period of time (generally about two weeks) before release. Fledglings also require an oppertunity to exercise to develop sufficient fitness prior to their release. The exposure to the elements will also encourage preening and ensure that the plumage is returned to normal waterproofing, which is important for any bird species. Orwell settled in very well into his new temporary home.

Blackbird Orwell

Update – 18/09/2017

Today blackbird Orwell has been successfully soft released. Stay safe Orwell!

Blackbird Orwell

Magpie Immanuel

Magpie Immanuel

Admission – 22/04/2017

Immanuel is an immature second year magpie, who has been observed being grounded in a garden for several days. Whilst being in hiding, Immanuel has been attacked by a cat, but luckily managed to escape. He has been eventually caught, when he was seeking shelter in a conservatory following the cat attack.

The admission assessment revealed no obvious injuries, but showed a loss of all tail feathers and severely damaged primaries and secondaries involving both wings rendering the bird being unable to fly. Immanuel has been treated prophylactically with antibiotics to prevent a potentially fatal infection caused by bugs transmitted by the cat. As the plumage has been found to be severely damaged,  Immanuel needs to undergo a complete or post breeding moult, which is usually happening over the summer and is going to be completed by the end of September. This also means, that Immanuel needs to stay with us for almost half a year before being releasable. 

Magpie Immanuel

Wild, and in particular adult wild magpies can be difficult patients, as they are often very nervous and easily excitable birds, who may have the tendency to harm themselves when being kept in captivity in a type of aviary, which doesn’t completely suit their needs. Sufficient shelter and hiding spaces are crucial to allow these birds to feel undisturbed and to relax in a captive environment.  Magpies enjoy to cache their food items and need therefore suitable areas,  where they can do so. It can be also sometimes difficult to introduce magpies into mixed species groups, as other corvid species are commonly reluctant to accept magpies amongst them. Although jackdaws are the most likely species to be tolerant enough to accept magpie company, it is more about the individual personalities than the species itself, as we had positive outcomes with jackdaws, crows, jays and rooks. Age and previous negative or positive experiences seem to play a role as well, as does the degree of maturity and the time of the year in respect of the breeding season. Generally speaking, mixed setups of this kind have to be closely monitored as they are prone to seemingly sudden change.

Update – 03/09/2017

Magpie Immanuel is doing well in his outdoor aviary, which he is sharing with magpie Kiri and jackdaws Benno and Kojak. He has moulted most of his primary and secondary feathers and has also regrown his tail feathers. The result looks promising and we are now hopeful that Immanuel can be released by the end of September, when his moult is completed. 

 

Magpie Immanuel

Update – 23/09/2017

Today magpie Immanuel has been successfully soft released. Stay safe Immanuel!