Written by Anamaria Cruz
It was a blustery, cold January afternoon, and my pager shift was nearly over. Just as I was walking to hand off my pager to my teammates on the next shift, the pager buzzed – once, then again. Two patients, both raptors, both sounding like they were suffering from head trauma. The first patient, a red-tailed hawk, had obvious signs of external trauma, broken bones, blood from the nares. It was started on fluid therapy designed to reduce swelling within the skull. The other patient was a bald eagle – presenting with similar neurologic signs, but, mysteriously, lacking any external damage. The triage team conducted a nervous system exam, and suspected poisoning. After a challenging blood draw and an anxious wait by the in-house lead analyzer, the culprit was revealed: sky-high levels of lead.
In January 2018, the Wildlife Medical Clinic received three adult bald eagles over the course of two weeks. All three patients presented with severe neurologic signs, including torticollis (abnormally twisting neck muscles), head-turning, ventroflexion (head cranked downwards), ataxia (incoordination), and weakness.
I was a freshman at the University of Illinois studying Animal Sciences when I first saw the Wildlife Ambassadors. I was sitting in a lecture hall for a Pre-Vet Club meeting on a Tuesday evening when three students walked in with large boxes. The students introduced themselves as volunteers at the Wildlife Medical Clinic at Illinois. They opened the boxes and out stepped three birds of prey onto their gloves. I was fascinated. They described the natural history of the birds, how they presented to the clinic, why they couldn’t be released, and how they are now ambassadors for their species. I was entranced by these majestic animals, and I asked the volunteers how I could become involved in their care. The following year, I became an undergraduate volunteer at the Wildlife Medical Clinic.
An adult Red-tailed Hawk presented to the Wildlife Medical Clinic after being found on the side of a highway. The finder was concerned the hawk had been hit by a car and might have a broken wing.
We performed a thorough physical exam and radiographs (x-rays) to determine the extent of the injuries. It became clear that the hawk did indeed have a complicated fracture of the left humerus, the largest bone in the wing. The fracture was also open, meaning that this bird was hit was such force or at such an angle, that its bone had fractured and pierced through the skin.