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Raptor Medicine, Surgery and Rehabilitation, 2nd Edition

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Comprehensive, intensely practical, and extensively illustrated, this unique book consolidates years of practical knowledge of dealing with injured birds of prey. Written by a practicing veterinarian, it: concisely covers helpful, day-to-day advice through hints, tips and clinical insights;æprovides an emphasis on practical procedures; and includes numerous illustrations for easy recognition of symptoms and replication of techniques. Outlining everything from handling and the intake examination through to practical procedures and the treatment of a comprehensive range of conditions and injuries, the book also advises readers on housing, rehabilitation and eventual release. Also including numerous rapid reference charts, this book is the one text that any avian or general veterinarian needs by the bench for the treatment of raptors and birds of prey.

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24 Chapters

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1: Handling and Physical Examination



Handling and Physical


Birds of prey are actually quite easy to work with if you have the proper training and a little experience. On the other hand, they can be incredibly dangerous if handled improperly. As with all wild animals, it is important to work fast and to minimize stress whenever working with birds of prey.

Proper handling techniques and being prepared can go a long way to help create a safe and stressfree interaction.

Learning Objectives

1. Proper handling techniques.

2. Performing a physical exam.

3. Intake protocols for common problems.

Cooper’s hawks. Once the bird is adequately r­ estrained, the grip should be moved closer to the feet for better control of the talons.

When transporting a bird, secure the legs with an underhanded grip, cover the bird’s head with a towel and place the bird’s back to your chest

(Fig. 1.1). With your other hand, gently place the towel across the chest (be careful not to interfere with respiration) and hold the beak up. This protects the bird’s face from its talons and also restrains both wings.


2: Anatomy and Physiology



Anatomy and Physiology

In order to treat birds effectively, it is important to know about some of the unique features of avian anatomy and physiology. This chapter provides a quick overview of some of the more clinically relevant features.


Learning Objectives



1. Skeletal anatomy.

2. Soft tissue anatomy.

3. Avian physiology of clinical importance.


The shoulder is a complex joint formed by the head of the humerus, the scapula, the clavicle

(furcula) and the coracoid (Fig. 2.1). The coracoid is a fan-shaped bone that forms a strut between the shoulder and a synovial joint attachment to the sternum. This bone is commonly fractured as a result of blunt trauma.

Thoracic Limb

The humerus is a pneumatic bone and is connected to the thoracic air sacs (Fig. 2.2). This is important and clinically relevant because:

• when repairing humeral fractures, it is important not flush into the proximal humerus as this can lead to flooding of the air sacs; and


3: Species Overview



Species Overview

A short species summary is presented including the common name, scientific name, abbreviation, the normal weight range, the typical diet, and habitat, as well as reproductive details. The species are arranged by continent but it is very common for a species to be present in many parts of the world. These data were compiled from multiple sources listed below but many species are not well documented.

The weights are provided in as much detail as current research allows. Note that the weight ranges can vary significantly based on geographic location and latitude. Ranges are printed separately for each sex, if available, or combined if not.

In some cases, multiple sources are listed if a discrepancy existed in the published literature.

In rare cases, only a few individual weights are provided.



African barred owlet

(Glaucidium capense)


Weight range



Male: 83–132 g


4: Fluid Therapy and Treatments



Fluid Therapy and Treatments

There are many commonly performed treatments and procedures used in avian medicine. Raptors are very tolerant and usually cooperative, but it is important to become proficient. Practicing with cadavers is always a good idea before attempting to work with a live patient.

Learning Objectives

1. How to provide fluid therapy.

2. Various bandages including the figure-8 wrap.

3. Advanced procedures such as blood transfusions.

4. Humane euthanasia.

Fluid therapy: routes of administration

The maintenance requirement is 50 ml/kg/day and this volume can be administered in many ways including orally, subcutaneously, intravenously, or intraosseously. The route depends on many factors, the most important being the patient’s clinical condition.

Oral Fluids and Formula

Oral fluids and/or dietary supplementation are appropriate when the patient is able to stand, is able to keep its head elevated and when there is little chance of regurgitation or aspiration. The stomach volume can be roughly estimated as


5: Ophthalmology




A careful examination of the eyes is absolutely required during all intake exams. It is very easy to focus on an obvious fracture, for instance, and miss serious unilateral or bilateral eye damage.

Eye trauma is actually very common in birds of prey. At Carolina Raptor Center, 40% of all birds admitted had damage to one or both eyes in the period 2010–2014 (Scott, 2015) so it is critical that a thorough exam (including the posterior chamber) be done. Bayón et al. (2007) is an excellent overview of avian ophthalmology

It does not take much to do a complete exam.

All that is required is a good light source and a direct ophthalmoscope (Fig. 5.1). Induction of mydriasis is rarely needed but can sometimes be induced with general anesthesia if necessary.

help protect the eye, as the actual socket is quite shallow (Fig. 5.3).

The extraocular muscles are under-developed.

Thus, the eye cannot move within the orbit.

The iris contains striated muscle allowing voluntary control of pupil size. This makes evaluation of the pupillary light response (PLR) less reliable, and also means that mydriasis cannot be achieved with topical atropine. When a bird is stressed, the PLR can be essentially absent.


6: Infectious Diseases



Infectious Diseases

Symbol key







There are several infectious diseases that affect raptors. Some are easy to recognize but others can be very difficult and expensive to diagnose definitively. Aspergillosis is probably the most important infectious disease affecting birds of prey and should almost always be on your differential diagnosis list until ruled out.

Opportunistic. The organism flourishes in a host with a compromised immune system

(stress, injury, other illness, prolonged antibiotic use) or in an animal excessively exposed

(poor ventilation, improper bedding). In addition, some species such as goshawks, gyrfalcons, rough-legged hawks and, especially, young red-tailed hawks, seem to be highly susceptible.

• Not contagious between animals, so isolation protocols do not need to be followed.

• Not zoonotic. However, special care should be taken when doing necropsies as there can be a dangerous exposure when examining the air sacs of a heavily infected bird.


7: Miscellaneous Conditions



Miscellaneous Conditions

There are many conditions affecting raptors that are not directly infectious in nature. Some are secondary to trauma or poor husbandry or due to exposure to toxic chemicals and substances in the environment.

Learning Objectives





Diagnosis and treatment of lead poisoning.

Dealing with bumblefoot.

The emaciated bird.

Treatment of spinal trauma.


Aspirate air from the pockets with an 18 gauge needle. Make a small nick with the needle as you are withdrawing to make a larger hole.

This should be repeated as necessary. Anesthesia is not required.

• Pressure bandages are helpful if the location allows a bandage to be placed.

• Do not give subcutaneous fluids.

• Attempt to correct the underlying cause.

Anticoagulant Toxicity

Air Sac Rupture/

Subcutaneous Air


Air sac ruptures and subcutaneous air can occur for many reasons. The most common cause is trauma such as hit-by-car, window-strike, or gunshot. It can also be caused accidentally, secondary to a lacerated trachea during intubation, or if the oxygen flow rate is too high during anesthesia.


8: Anesthesia




Learning Objectives

1. Basic anesthetic protocols.

2. Proper oxygen flow rates and endotracheal tube


3. Safe monitoring of vital signs.

Induction and maintenance of anesthesia in raptors is relatively easy but, as with all species, careful monitoring is always necessary. Gas anesthesia is usually the safest and most convenient method. A nonrebreathing system such as an Ayers T-piece configuration with a high flow rate (Fig. 8.1) should be used.

Isoflurane works very well, is safe, and has a fast duration of onset and recovery. Newer gases such as sevoflurane are also becoming popular and may be advantageous in patients with cardiac arrhythmias.

Induction is carried out by masking the bird down with 3–4% isoflurane in oxygen at a flow rate of at least 1 liter/min/kg.

Pre-oxygenation and premedication/pre-­emptive analgesia with butorphanol are very useful and are highly recommended. Birds appear to have a predominance of kappa opioid receptors so


9: Soft Tissue Surgery



Soft Tissue Surgery

Learning Objectives

1. Creating a sterile field.

2. Instruments and suture material required.

3. Dealing with barbed-wire injuries.

4. Abdominal approaches and procedures.

5. Toe amputation.

Preparing the Surgical Field

The feathers are of vital importance. Therefore, always pluck as few feathers as possible to create a sterile field. It is always preferable to pluck feathers, rather than to clip them, since this encourages feather regrowth and minimizes the time required before eventual release. However, some feather clipping instead of plucking may be necessary in cases where the skin is badly traumatized and torn.

A sterile field can be created using masking tape in a border around the surgical field

(Fig. 9.1). Masking tape forms a nice margin, does not leave a sticky residue on the feathers, and can be surgically prepared prior to the placement of traditional drapes.

The surgical field should be prepared with scrubs of iodine or chlorhexidine-based antiseptics alternated with either alcohol or saline. Be careful when using alcohol around existing wounds. In addition, alcohol has a significant cooling effect and can cause hypothermia in small birds, or even in large birds, if used on the body wall or abdomen.


10: Orthopedics




Learning Objectives

1. Proper triage: what can be repaired and what cannot?

2. Placing IM pins with and without an ESF tie-in.

3. The importance of post-op care.

4. Repair of humerus fractures.

5. Repair of ulna/radius fractures.

6. Repair of tibiotarsus fractures.

When treating avian fractures, we are often dealing with relatively acute cases in otherwise healthy birds that have simply had an unfortunate accident. Because of this, the prognosis can be quite good and recovery can be dramatic.

Unfortunately, fresh injuries are not always present on admission and sometimes you have to deal with a very thin or emaciated bird with an old, poorly healed fracture. This is particularly true with vultures that seem quite able to survive for weeks or months with a fracture or other injury.

Triage and Stabilization

Always provide analgesia and sedation prior to your examination and workup. An initial examination, including palpation of all long bones, examination of the head and eyes, as well as a VD radiograph, should take less than 10 min if you are properly prepared:


11: Endoscopy




Learning Objectives

1. Indications and uses for endoscopy.

2. The entry point and major internal landmarks.

3. Knowing what “normal” looks like.

The avian anatomy is well suited for endoscopic evaluation, due to the presence of a system of air sacs. Endoscopy is a valuable tool in the diagnosis and treatment of many disease processes since it allows direct access to various lesions in a relatively non-invasive manner (Fig. 11.1). Proper technique, however, can be challenging and practice with cadavers is recommended prior to working with actual patients.

and the biopsy samples are miniscule. Instruments closer to 2 mm in width are more clinically useful

(Fig. 11.3).

A video camera and monitor are crucial since they allow the operator to remain in a comfortable, standing position while performing the procedure. Without the camera, the operator must view through the scope itself, and this means bending over and placing the head in the sterile field.


12: Orphans




Learning Objectives

1. The causes and avoidance of mal-imprinting.

2. Basic feeding protocols.

3. The typical developmental timeline.

4. Live prey testing.

5. When to attempt to renest a hatchling.

Young nestling, hatchling, and fledgling-age birds are often admitted to rehabilitation facilities during the nesting season. Causes for admission include habitat destruction (e.g. tree cut down) as well as young birds being blown from the nest in a storm. These birds are often referred to as “orphans” but, in reality, the majority of these so-called “orphans” are healthy fledglings which were found by a member of the public and thought to be injured. They are essentially “kidnapped” and are best returned to their nest site (see Renesting, below).

Orphan Season

The actual start and end of the orphan season varies with geography, weather, and species. In North

Carolina, USA, orphan admissions usually begin in March or April, peak in May or June, and are usually over by July or August (Fig. 12.1). Most species have a typical timing for nest building, egg-­ laying, hatching, and fledging (Chapter 3). Note that there is quite a bit of overlap, and barn owls are one species that reproduce throughout the year.


13: Feathers and Aging



Feathers and Aging

Learning Objectives

1. Feather numbering and anatomy.

2. Determining age.

3. Imping feathers.

Feathers are an incredibly important part of avian anatomy. They are involved in several functions including:

• Flight.

• Insulation.

• Waterproofing.

• Courtship and mating.

• Camouflage.

• Sound level control (in owls).

Because of their importance, all attempts should be made to protect feathers. These include, but are not limited to:

Proper handling (Chapter 1).

Appropriate caging (Chapter 15).

Use of tail wraps (Chapter 4).

There are several types of feathers that vary in function and in construction:

• Contour feathers: these are the largest feathers and have the most typical appearance.

Remiges: the major wing flight feathers.

– Primaries: these attach to the dorsal metacarpal and second phalange bones. There are ten of them numbered from the carpus outward (Fig. 13.2).


14: Clinical Pathology



Clinical Pathology

Learning Objectives

1. What are normal values?

2. How to read a blood smear.

3. What do various abnormalities mean?

Hematology and the

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

Indications for a CBC

The CBC is a valuable tool in avian medicine, can be run in-house with little cost, and the results are available in minutes. A CBC is useful:

as part of a minimum database. to screen for disease. to monitor treatment.

Packed cell volume and total solids

The packed cell volume (PCV) in a healthy bird is typically 40–50%. Dehydration can increase this value by 10 percentage points. Anemia and a low PCV commonly occur secondary to chronic disease and emaciation. Blood loss as a cause of anemia is very rare.

Raptor Tip

Normal PCV: 40–50%

Normal total solids (TS): 2.5–4.5 g/dl

TS is measured on a refractometer. The typical range is from 2.5 to 4.5 g/dl in a healthy bird (much lower than the typical mammal).


15: Housing and Husbandry



Housing and Husbandry

Learning Objectives

1. Appropriate perching.

2. Basic cage construction details.

3. Minimum requirements for caging.

4. Resident bird husbandry basics.

5. Common husbandry problems.

Chain link fence secured on the ground around the perimeter for at least 2′ (0.6 m) is very effective

(Fig. 15.3).

Vertical slats

The walls should be made of vertical wood slats or other similar material. The important detail

Indoor housing

In general, birds of prey do well in dog and cat carriers, as long as these are modified to include a perch (Fig. 15.1; Table 15.1). The appropriate sized carrier should be provided so there is space above the bird’s head when it is on the perch.

Outdoor Cage Construction

Cages of the appropriate construction and size are critical to the successful rehabilitation of raptors.

Some construction factors to consider are discussed below.

Double doors


16: Capturing Trapped Birds



Capturing Trapped Birds

Learning Objectives

action, allow some time (up to 24 h, if possible) for the bird to free itself. Some helpful tips include:

1. Problems to expect after birds have been trapped in a chimney.

2. Tricks to capture warehouse birds.

• Opening all doors/windows and turning out lights.

• Turning off any ceiling fans.

• Trying to create an environment that is quiet and free of activity for at least a few hours.

Birds trapped in chimneys

Owls may be trapped in chimneys during the nesting season when they are looking for a cavity to nest in. A bird may fall into the actual fireplace but it is more common for it to be trapped above the flue. If the bird is located above the flue, the flue door may have to be removed in order to extract the bird. Wear goggles to protect your eyes from falling soot and debris. Use of a long flexible pole with a loop on the end can assist in snagging the bird and gently pulling it down.


17: Time for Release!



Time for Release!

Learning Objectives

1. Determining if a bird is ready for release.

2. Common injuries that make a bird not releasable.

3. Release logistics: where, when, how.


There is nothing more rewarding than releasing a bird that was injured and in need of help. For many in this profession, this is what it is all about. Your patient has come a long way since admission, but there are a few final checks that are ­necessary before it is ready to be returned to the wild.

© D.E. Scott 2016. Raptor Medicine, Surgery, and Rehabilitation (D.E. Scott)

Time for Release!

Pre-release Checks

Feather quality

The feathers must be in good condition with very little or no damage. They should be clean and waterproof, and should repel water readily when sprayed or misted. Any significantly damaged feathers should be repaired if possible (Chapter 13) or the release must be postponed until a successful molt has occurred. There should be very little sound generated by the feathers in flight, and owls must be almost entirely silent in flight after the first one or two wing beats.


Appendix A: Feeding Guide


Appendix A: Feeding Guide

The feeding guide in Table A.1 should be used as a starting point for determining how much to feed. It is based on species but realize that there are many factors that will affect what should be considered a proper diet for a specific individual.

These factors include:

Activity level.

Individual metabolism.

Individual size: red-tailed hawks, for example, can range from 800 g in a small male to over 1500 g in a large female. ­Obviously, they will require a different amount of food.

Breeding status and sex.

Time of year/average temperature.

Injuries and molt status.

It is critically important that the bird’s weight be monitored closely and that leftovers are collected and weighed. The amount fed can then be adjusted as needed.


1. The amounts listed are for adult birds in a rehabilitation setting. Permanent resident birds will require substantially (20–25%) less, especially if ­sedentary.


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