A New Approach to Correcting Splayed Legs in Baby Birds
by Nancy Chambers, Urban Bird, NY
This article originally appeared in SQUAWK, the newsletter of the Big Apple Bird Association and is reprinted with permission.
We at Urban Bird, in Manhattan, find ourselves in a rather unique position in the world of aviculture.
We are involved in breeding parrots, right on the premises, in the middle of one of the most densely populated areas in the country.
We occupy a three story building, where we live, have a breeding aviary consisting of many pairs of the larger birds, mostly amazons and larger, and we have a ground floor retail store, which specializes almost entirely in the large psitticines. We are a parrots-only establishment.
However, being a ground-floor retail store, we see many situations with people who walk in asking for help or advice.
One day about three months ago a young woman came in asking for help ... her pair of budgies had laid eggs and hatched three babies, but seemed to be ignoring them. Well, we generally don't have anything to do with these teeny creatures, but she was a very nice person, and after asking her hold old they were ... a week to ten days ... I told her to bring them in, and I'd see what I could do.
She came in the following day with a shoebox, containing three TEENY babies .. I've raised many macaw and amazon chicks, but these guys were ... SMALL!!!
And, only one was "normal." The middle one. The oldest had two splayed legs ... pointing east and west! The youngest had one splayed leg, and was missing a wing. Poor little things! The "normal" one went home, eventually, with one of our volunteers.
They were running on empty, so I fed them (very carefully!) and say there scratching my head trying to figure out what to DO about them! Over the next week, I tried many things, including wrapping them in gauze strips, and bandaging around it, which they invariable squirmed out of, to just using tape around their bodies, which succeeded in pulling out their growing feathers (ouch!).
I could see that "fixing" these teeniest of all possible parrots was going to get my creativity exercised.
So, one night when I was doing the 1 a.m. feed, I just stood there, hand to chin, thinking... If only I could find some non-sticky rigid substance that would restrain them ... wrap around them ... something.
I went to bed that night with a glimmer of an idea, and went down the next morning to try it out, only to find that the oldest baby, the one with the two splayed legs, had aspirated himself overnight .. and was gone to little budgie heaven.
Truth be known, if I hadn't been able to fix his legs, he'd have had a terrible "quality of life," so perhaps it was a blessing.
I was left with our little wingless wonder, now about two weeks old. Parrots, including budgies, are born helpless, blind and featherless, so this little guy was a teeny nearly naked creature, no more than two inches long.
What I did was get a 60 cc feeding syringe cut in half. I stuffed the little bird into it, holding her down with a tiny "Elizabethan" collar, taped to the plastic body of the syringe, and with a tissue stuffed up the other end, both to catch her droppings and to keep her from falling out the bottom.
For those who don't know, a syringe is a two part plastic instrument, with a clear outer tube, with graduated numbers on it, indicating amounts, and an inner plunger, which pushes the liquid being used through the tip. I simply used the outer plastic tube part, to put the little bird into. It seemed to be the perfect circumference to hold her little legs against her abdomen, and to keep her from being able to move around.
I had to put this entire "straitjacket" in a coffee mug, to keep it upright, and the position the bird had inside the syringe kept her legs neatly up against her abdomen, completely restrained.
In monitoring her, and feeding her for the next two weeks, I noticed that the leg was slowly going back into the "normal" position. (I had previously checked that all the joints worked, and that all bones seemed to be in their normal place).
I had to change the tissue with every feeding, and remove the "collar" once in a while to be sure she was breathing properly, emptying her crop, etc., and once every two days, I'd let her out and hold her in my hands to give her little body a rest.
This kept up for a bit over two weeks, and I decided to let her out for a full day. After a bit of uncertainly, she started scrambling around just about normally. After two days, she was perching, and began to act like any normal little parrot!!!
Still too young to tell if she was male or female, we named her Michelle (which could be a boy's name, too, you know) after a friend, who had overcome major physical problems to live a normal life.
We've decided to keep little Michelle, as a sort of store mascot, and inspiration to all of us! We've had many people who want to buy or adopt her, but, even though we have no power to re-grow a missing wing, and she will always be a wingless wonder, little Michelle is not for sale.
Michelle, while worming her way into our hearts, actually has a job here. She is in charge of watching over all the little babies ... invariable bigger than her! She'll preen lovebirds, cockatoos, amazons, conures and macaws, and is kept (for her own safety) in a cage with the cockatiel, lovebird and conure babies overnight, so she can watch over them. The littlest bird here at Urban Bird has no idea she's different, and she is totally delightful. Come in and visit her.
I believe that this very simple "things-on-hand" procedure can save the lives and limbs of any baby bird with splayed legs. Syringes, and other tube type devices, come in many circumferences, and with the general concept in mind, this idea can be adapted to any size baby.
We hope that this idea will help some other baby bird live a normal life.