Thursday, February 16, 2012

Two Bald Eagles = Double the Fun

Not many new neighbors have been coming through the cages recently. Like I said, it's winter, and, everyone is grateful to be experiencing a "slow season". But of the few birds who have been passing through, two (!!) of them are Bald Eagles, and they're both handfuls, but for different reasons.

Bald Eagle #1: In for the long haul

Just down the hall from me is an adult Bald Eagle that came in barely able to use her legs and feet. The Humans have determined that she had spinal trauma that left her out of touch with her extremities. Their solution: physical therapy. For a couple of weeks they were catching her regularly to work her legs and feet through something they call "PROM", or "passive range of motion." That means the Humans are holding on to her legs/feet and moving them through their normal range of motion, one joint at a time, then the whole shebang at once. The idea is that the nerves and muscles in the legs/feet have "forgotten" how to do what they're supposed to, and PROM will help them "remember" more easily. 

Then, in recent weeks, they've moved her to "AROM", or "active range of motion." That means they're setting things up in her cage in such a way that she's putting herself through physical therapy. Naturally, both Humans and Eagle are enjoying the reduced interaction. The way the Humans have her doing AROM is by providing her with numerous perches in a wide range of shapes, heights and styles. In order to get to her food, she needs to negotiate some of these perches. This makes her use her legs and feet on her own, in little baby steps, with a food reward at the end. Excellent. 

What's most interesting about her case, in my opinion, is that the Humans are spending a lot of time right now rebuilding her confidence. She would eat me if she knew I were writing this, but the truth is, she's lost all confidence in her ability to use her legs and feet! Even though you don't imagine an animal as majestic and indomitable as a Bald Eagle having confidence issues, it makes sense when you think about it: she must have pushed herself hard when she first lost her ability to use her legs and feet, refusing to believe that she couldn't move like an Eagle anymore, and her reward was probably some harsh face-plants and deep bruises. We Raptors aren't dumb--we're quick learners. And if we crash and burn a few times, and it hurts, we stop trying. 

 So in addition to providing AROM physical therapy for her, the perches in her cage are also baby-stepping her back up to her old Eagle-level of confidence, allowing her to progressively jump higher and land more solidly as her body heals. I often overhear the Humans talking about her, and they say she's making slow-but-steady progress, and there's hope that she'll make a full recovery. But it's going to take a long time. 

I tell you what: the day she achieves her old level of strength and confidence, and remembers how to use it...well, I wouldn't want to be the one in the cage with her. Those feet are big. 

Bald Eagle #2: Kamikaze Knucklehead

Well, that's not what I call him, but I've overheard the Humans referring to him this way. This immature Bald Eagle came in with a whole bunch of injuries: a fractured coracoid, an injured leg, and some pretty severe lead poisoning. The coracoid is one of those specialized bones we birds have in the shoulder-region, and it allows us to beat our wings strongly enough to fly. In other words, it's pretty essential. It's also difficult to fix a fractured one because it's located deep within the shoulder muscles. Pretty much the only thing the Humans can do to fix a fractured coracoid is keep the bird calm and quiet for a couple of weeks until it heals on its own.

Well, thank goodness for leg injuries and lead poisoning, or this Eagle would never have healed! I wouldn't normally wish those things on anybird, but the combination of illness and pain is the only thing that kept this "knucklehead" quiet enough for his coracoid to heal reasonably well. As soon as he started feeling better he put up a fight at every turn, most notably by heedlessly smashing into anything around him while trying to get away. Solid wall? So what. He'd try to go through it. 

As soon as he was deemed fit enough, he was moved into a larger cage--maybe he wouldn't bash around so much? No such luck--he still thought he could break through wooden slats with his 6-pound body. All last week the other birds and I tried to tell him to chill the heck out, but he wouldn't listen. Some birds are just born with more determination than others. Gotta give him props for trying, though! 

It didn't take long for the Humans to decide he was fit enough for one of the large flight cages, a place where he can really stretch his wings and practice using that damaged coracoid. He was moved out there today (finally, some quiet around here). Did he stop running into walls in the bigger cage? Hardly. Here's what I overheard one of the Humans saying about him today:  "As soon as I released him into the cage, he flew straight at the far wall in a straight line, and I cringed expecting the crash...but at the last second he changed directions and flew straight up---and crashed into the ceiling instead. Then he came tumbling down and landed on a perch, exactly like that was what he meant to do all along. Knucklehead." 

So, he may not be the most graceful bird around, but all us Educational Birds are cheering right now because the Eagle flew straight up. That requires lift, and lift requires a fully-functional and strong coracoid!

In case you were wondering, each of those Eagles tears through nearly a pound of fish and meat every day. Want to help provide them with lunch? Click here! 

I'll be sure to keep you updated on the progress of my amazing neighbors. Check back often! 

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