Something to Crow about: Bullet Removed from Bird

Feb 25, 2016 / Student Blogs

Winter is a slow time for most wildlife caretakers in the Midwest, and the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic is no different. Many animals are hibernating or have migrated, and there are no babies around to get into trouble. But, as it always does, work in the clinic has started to pick up with longer days and warmer weather.

crow x-rays

A before and after radiograph of the affected wing. The white object near the broken bone is the bullet (metal appears white on an x-ray) and the metal objects in the second image are the pins that the students placed to stabilize the fragments.

One of our current patients is an American crow. His rescuers brought him to the WMC after watching him on the ground for several days. During the physical exam, the students learned that the humerus, the large bone between the shoulder and the elbow, was broken. The bird was provided analgesia (pain relief) and fluid support and a bandage was applied to the broken wing while we waited to perform more diagnostic testing.

The following day, x-rays were taken to fully evaluate the nature of the injury. We immediately noticed that the bird had been shot (which we reported to the proper authorities); fortunately, the location of the break (in the middle of a bone rather than involving a joint) meant we had a chance at being able to surgically repair the damage. With some guidance, the veterinary students, who had already worked so hard caring for this animal, cleaned the fracture site, removed the bullet, and placed pins into the bone to stabilize the fragments. The surgery went well, the bird recovered, and post-operative x-rays showed that the bone (while now a little shorter) was back in a natural position.

Now that the difficult part is over, the students are charged with making sure the bird gains some weight, receives his medications, and undergoes physical therapy to help strengthen the wing and keep the joints loose. If all goes well, he should be well on his way back to the wild within about six weeks.

It’s pretty well-known that crows are not a favorite animal of many people. They are loud, they get into the garbage, and they can be aggressive to anyone who threatens their family (be it animal or human!). But crows are amazing animals, and they deserve more respect than they get. Here are some reasons why:

surgery on crow

Students perform the surgical repair of the wing with guidance from the clinic veterinarians.

  1. Crows are incredible problem solvers. Just watch this video of a crow making a tool when he can’t reach his food. Here’s another demonstrating a crow’s understanding of water displacement, shapes, and densities.
  2. Crows stick together. The older offspring come back to help raise their younger siblings. Groups cooperate to ward off predators. They’ve even been documented “mourning” their dead.
  3. Crows can remember and communicate really A famous study showed that crows not only remember the faces of people who harass them but that they can then describe the person to other crows. So well, in fact, that new crows can later recognize the person without having seen him before. (Shooter, beware!)

This is just a peek at the awesome qualities that crows possess, and they are important components of a healthy ecosystem to boot. So think good thoughts about our little patient in the hospital, and maybe you’ll start to view your winged, cawing neighbors in a new light!

Do you have questions or comments? I’d love to hear! Post to the Wildlife Medical Clinic account on Facebook or Twitter @WildlifeatIL.

Nicki Rosenhagen, DVM