P.E.I. eagle to live out its days in wildlife facility after successful spinal surgery

·3 min read
P.E.I. eagle to live out its days in wildlife facility after successful spinal surgery

An incredibly rare surgery performed on a P.E.I. eagle was a major success, and the bird will soon live out its days in a wildlife care facility.

The eagle, nicknamed "buddy" by some, was brought to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown in October after it was struck by a car, said AVC wildlife technician Fiep de Bie. It couldn't walk or stand, was covered in blood and its condition was getting worse.

Veterinarians suspected a spinal cord injury and confirmed that by diagnostic imaging — which revealed a dislocated vertebrae that was pressing on the spinal cord.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

"We decided as a team that we would try to explore surgery, and it would be groundbreaking surgery," she said. "Some research was done on this ... it's common in dogs, but not in birds."

There was just one instance de Bie said they could find from roughly 20 years ago when a similar surgery was performed on a penguin — but nothing has been published since.

The surgery was done to "make more room in the spinal canal" and to relieve the pressure on the nerves, de Bie said.

'Everybody was very excited'

The surgery was a resounding success, and the eagle was standing within a week. Veterinarians and staff couldn't contain their glee, as they'd run up to de Bie and say "how is the eagle doing!?

Atlantic Veterinary College
Atlantic Veterinary College

"Everybody was very excited about that, especially the surgeons," she said. "We kept everybody up to date, and also our intern she's doing a case report on this. It's so unique, it's a ground-breaking surgery, so it had to be written down in a report."

When the report comes out, de Bie said it will circulate in veterinary circles around the world and more people will be aware that this type of surgery is possible.

But there are some extra injuries still causing problems for the eagle. During the healing and rehabilitation process, the bird was lifting and propping itself up using its wrists.

The skin on the carpal joints of the wrist are very thin, de Bie said. Lifting itself using its wrists over and over again caused some irreparable damage. The eagle also developed sores on its foot.

"There were some, yeah, hurdles along the way for sure. The spinal [surgery] itself was successful, it was the secondary injuries that caused some problems," de Bie said.

'Baby steps'

Despite the extra injuries, the eagle is doing much better now.

Week to week, month to month, staff at the AVC worked with the eagle to help it go from being completely grounded to being able to perch, walk, hop and even fly short distances on its own.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

"Baby steps, really," de Bie said.

"If he can't perch than he cannot be in the wild but he cannot also be placed in a permanent centre. So when he started doing that, we were really really happy."

The eagle's wrists are healed as much as they can for now, its back is in much better condition and, overall, it "looks very good."

There is permanent damage in the bird's wrists, so the rest of its life will be spent at a wildlife facility. Where exactly is yet to be determined, but de Bie said they hope to find a home for it by the end of the year.

"Quality of life is the most important thing to consider when you place an animal somewhere permanently," she said. "He's talkative, he's active, but it's something that you have to monitor very well."

It will be a sad day when they let the eagle go, said de Bie, but part of the job is being excited that they could bring it back to health and see it move on to live the rest of its life in better health.

"He really deserves a good life," she said. "He went through so much."