Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Falconer's Obligation

A major obligation with being a falconer, and being responsible for the bird(s) under your care, is an acceptance that despite your best efforts, accidents happen, and you have to be prepared to take corrective actions because of them.

Last week I discovered this above with Sassy.  I do not know how she did it, I don't know when she did it, but once I realized what was going on I arranged to have her seen at the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center. 
Much later, after talking with her doctor, it appears the injury had been in place for a long enough time that there were changes in the bone.  I do know, a couple weeks ago, she started her molt, dropping 5 tail feathers in just a couple days (unusual) and the #10 primary on each wing (normal).  Then, a couple days later, she dropped #8 and #9 primary on her right wing (unusual).  Because of the unusual pattern in her tail, I thought perhaps we were just going to have a weird molt this year (its been a weird year, a very very late spring, and un-ending rain).  She may have sustained her injury at that time, causing those end primaries to drop out, but I never saw any unusual blood (from all the other blood in her mews all the time with her fresh mice and rats).  It was not until the tip flipped out that I took a much closer look.  She's been put up for the molt, so I don't handle her that much.  I occasionally weigh her to make sure her weight is good, but not daily.
Her appointment was on Thursday, May 30.  She was anesthetized for the examination, x-ray, and ultimately the initial amputation.  Her right terminal phalanx was removed.  I've lifted a couple of pictures off the Internet of the wing bone anatomy for reference.  The wound was swabbed for bacterial typing, then flushed and initially bandaged.  She was given pain medication, and fluids.

You can see here the face cuff used to deliver the anesthetic gas.  I didn't ask what it was -- too distracted being the worried hawk "mom" than the reporter.  I had no fear that there was any danger to her life, though that is always a risk with anesthesia.  I just felt very bad that she had to go through this whole situation, and that because of the injury, she may never be a falconry bird again.

She woke just fine from this initial ordeal, and even looks a little quizzical, as if to say: "What the heck just happened to me??"
Because of my work schedule (the next four days) she stayed the weekend at the Raptor Center.  On Friday she received a more extensive surgery to assess the viability of the wound.  Half of the next bone, the basal phalanx, was removed, and then the entire wound stitched up.  She had a fairly heavy bandage after the second surgery, but all other light bandages she removed.  She received antibiotics, as well as an antiinflammatory and a vasodialator to improve the blood circulation to speed healing.  I was told that otherwise she was well behaved, ate "everything we give her", and was her regular talkative self.

Rich and I picked her up on Tuesday and brought her home.  She seems to be just a little less sassy, having had her pride knocked down a couple levels over the last few days, but this morning I checked on her wound and it is clean and she is leaving it alone.  After weighing her, she scrawed at me, so all is getting back to normal!

It is not easy to show exactly what was removed, but she has permanently lost at least the first three primary feathers on her right wing.  It will remain to be seen how many others will eventually grow in.  Her doctor did indicate that she has all of her alules, which will cover and somewhat protect the end tip.  She is able to move around her mews, but there is an awful lot more effort to get lift.  Time will tell, after she heals, and the molt moves along, just how much wing function she will have. 
While under anesthesia she also got a beak cope.  I'm including pictures here of the results of that.  I was not around to see the coping, but while at the Raptor Center, after my appointment, an eagle was being coped, so I stayed and watched.  The procedure is the same.

I've linked to 4 videos that I found of a falcon's coping.  The person doing the coping is the same one who coped the eagle I watched.  It is sometimes hard to hear what they are talking about, but good to watch, and for reference in the future.  I was going to set up a coping workshop for Justin and Greg with Dave.  Now we don't have to do that.

The videos above were done at The Raptor Center, here in Minnesota.  I also found a video of a falcon being coped at the Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

My sincerest Thank You to Dr. Mitch of the Raptor Center who took care of Sassy.  I had planned to take her there to get her West Nile Virus vaccination . . . which did happen on discharge, but ended up with a far more involved medical intervention.  It is an unfortunate outcome, but looking at it from an optimistic viewpoint, otherwise my bird is healthy, alive, and could still have a future as either an education bird or possibly a breeding bird.  Her days as a hunter may have come to an end.

It is the Falconer's Obligation to do the best you can with the bird(s) you are privileged to work with.


  1. Awww, poor Sassy. I am glad to hear that she came through it and is recovering. It seems weird how something like that can happen. Looking forward to more posts as to how she is doing and what your up to.

  2. Poor Sassy! Poor YOU!!! I hope her recovery goes well and she can have a long happy healthy life. Thanks for taking care of her! - Darla