Patient Number 2013-00034  Buteo Jamaicensis
A First-year Red Tail Hawk

Late in January of 2013, case number 2013- 00034 arrived. The first year red tail hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) had a story to tell us. If only he could, it would be a fascinating tale of struggle and a will to survive. He was found in a wooded area behind a residential neighborhood in Raritan Township, on the ground.

The initial exam revealed a fractured left humerus and what appeared to be an old injury to the left eye. Perhaps the poor vision in the left eye had contributed to the injury of the left wing? Radiographs were taken. The fracture that had been discovered during the initial exam was in the bottom one third of the large bone (distal), closer to the elbow. What had not been discovered during the exam was an already healed fracture in the top one third of the same bone (proximal), closer to the shoulder.

The bird underwent surgery on January 31st to place a pin in the bone in order to stabilize the most recent fracture. Several bandage changes later, the pin was removed and another radiograph was taken. The bone had not calcified (healed). On March 15th a second surgery to repair the fracture was performed. The wing was wrapped to his body to eliminate any movement in the healing fracture. He stayed that way for three weeks. The bandage was removed on April 4th and the pin was removed. Sadly, radiographs indicated that the bone still had not calcified. That left two options; euthanize the bird or try to permanently stabilize the wing so he could be placed in our education programs.

As a juvenile bird, his inclination to be trained for education purposes was far more likely than that of an adult bird. So, on the 19th of April he underwent his last surgery to place a permanent pin in the bone. Now, he is able to hold the wing in a more natural position and the constant movement in the unhealed fracture does not cause discomfort. He made his first appearance as an education ambassador at the Kobli Gallery event in February of 2014.

Had the eye injury and the original wing injury occurred at the same time? How had the bird survived those injuries and healed well enough to fly? Had it occurred while the bird was still a nestling – giving the wing a chance to heal while flight was not necessary? Those are questions that will never be answered. What we do know – his will to survive got him through an original injury that should have been a death sentence for a wild bird. Hopefully, we will be telling his story for many years to come. 

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