The function of wildlife rehabilitation...
The function of wildlife rehabilitation is to treat an animal with the purpose of restoring it to a point that it can be released back into the wild and be able to survive.
An individual with a wildlife rehabilitation license has an obligation to put down those animals that cannot make it. I would suppose that there are those rehabilitators that do not have the heart to destroy particular animals and keep them if they are not releasable but everyone has limited resources and most of those that cannot be returned to the wild are going to be euthanised.
There is no requirement that a rehabilitation license is needed to keep, maintain and treat pigeons, sparrows and starlings. They are not native species and are therefore unprotected species. They are however, covered under the humane animal laws and therefore have to be accorded the respect and dignity required to keep them in as good a condition as possible.
What constitutes humane is not only a legal problem for its definition but there are times when it becomes a moral dilemma and I will give you one example.
About two months ago on a Sunday night at about 10:30, I was coming home and saw an adolescent pigeon hiding by a fence. He was standing but his head was down towards the ground. That is a sign of pain in the crop or intestines. When I got him home, I examined his body looking for the source of the pain and found it. I felt a large hard substance inside and at the base of the crop. This was killing the bird. It was obstructing him. It was probably infecting him and it was causing a lot of distress. Based on what I saw of this bird's behavior, I didn't think he would make it through the night. It's 10:30pm on a Sunday. The bird is in a lot of pain. Death is coming soon. There was no way to get to a vet at that time. I had to make a decision.
When a bird is very thin, plucking chest feathers can actually rip out the skin. So, I used scissors to cut the feathers down to the base and cleared an area on the upper breast and to the right side of the bird. Doing it in the center is working directly over the esophagus and that is a no-no. The esophagus could herniate. When enough area was cleared, I manipulated the rock-like object up towards that area and held it tight against the side of the crop. I then took a clean sharp Exacto knife and make a cut long enough to be able to remove this object but no longer than that.
When the cut was made, I pressed the object out through the incision. It was an unshelled peanut, swollen and way larger than when the bird first swallowed it from the moisture in the crop. When young birds are starving and they see something that they can swallow, they don't know enough to stay away from it and they take it down.
I stitched the skin closed but not the crop. The crop heals quickly, in about five days. There is a layer of fat and muscle under the skin and I only sutured the skin. Anesthesia would be needed to go that deeply to suture anything else.
The bird was put on Baytril and hand fed some soaked Purina Puppy Chow, an easily digestible food that is very good for sick birds. I didn't want to feed seed because I knew the Puppy Chow would have a greater chance go past the wound and not get caught. Seed could be captured in the wound and possibly fester or go through the unsutured crop wound. The amount of food given was obviously never enough to fill the crop up to the level of that wound in the upper right breast area.
In five days, when I felt the crop was closed, seed was started and the Puppy Chow was eliminated. Although the Chow is good, it has a lot of protein and can cause gout in birds so it can't really be given for long periods of time. I have no idea how long is too long. The sutures were taken out on the tenth day. Everything was closed up. The bird was kept for another two weeks to build him up. That bird bonded to me. He became finger tame and he liked to fly onto my head. He was too thin to release immediately. There was not enough fat to keep him viable in this cold weather. I took him to a friend who will keep him through the winter and release him in the spring. So now you know about the internal conflicts that come up between what is legally humane treatment and ethical dilemma. I don't have the answer to whether I did the right thing here. All I know is that the bird is now alive, healthy and has a second chance. Right and wrong are not so easy to define.
Incidentally, I had a bird soon after that experience that had swallowed an acorn. This was also an adolescent but this one could not survive. He was infected from top to bottom. You could see pus coming out of his cloaca. He was too far gone to do anything. They do swallow these nuts. So if you see a bird that is on the ground, pecking put appears to be extremely weak, reluctant to fly and is staying away from the group, that bird needs help and you never know what the problem is until you get it.
At that point, it could be anything.
Can you Rehabilitate?
Tough question to answer because you are the ones who have to make the choice
"You are going to lose birds but your success rate will always average out to be higher than your losses."
The question is, can you tolerate the loss of a bird? When you do lose one, can you get past the guilt feelings as you look back and question whether you did anything wrong? Can you push the loss into the back of your minds and keep going out there to find another bird in trouble?
Will your confidence in yourself disappear with these losses? Those are questions that only you can answer.
The chances are you didnt do anything wrong. Either you got the bird too late or the illness or injury was too extensive. When a bird enters the dying process from an illness, the first to shut down is the digestive process. If you take a bird in and syringe a lot of water down him in order to stop the dehydration, feed him and if you dont see any kind of droppings after perhaps 12 hours, the digestive system has already shut down and there is nothing you can do to start it up again. This can happen when you first get the bird. It can happen while you are treating the pigeon. Everything can seem to be going fairly well and all of a sudden the birds droppings stop. At that point, you can do nothing except watch. You arent going to be able to save this particular bird.
Let me give you an example of a failed rescue. The date of this writing is June 13, 2004. Yesterday, I picked up a youngster that was very sluggish. He picked up individual seeds very slowly and was struggling to swallow them. He was very wobbly on his feet. When I got him home, the first thing I did was look in his mouth. He had a case of canker and we will discuss this later on. He had a very small mouth and his throat looked quite blocked from the infection. There was an opening on the left side of his throat where food and medicine could go past the infection. Syringing water down was not a good choice because the water could bounce off the blockage and go into the trachea and I had no idea of how deep the infection went into the throat so I put his beak into water and let him drink at his own speed. There was next to nothing in the way of food in his crop. Because of his small mouth and the great extent of canker, I decided that for the same reason I couldnt syringe water down, I could not syringe liquid food either. I also felt that I might start a bleed if I opened his mouth too wide so as far as I was concerned, tube feeding was out of the question.
I broke up the antibiotic and canker medication into very small pieces and gave them to him one piece at a time. I soaked a semi-solid food, Purina Puppy Chow until it was soft and fed him with very small pieces and that went very well. All of this was done to avoid the possibility of a potential bleed. Droppings started after a few hours and continued into the morning. Today, he had emptied his crop so I sat down to feed and medicate him again. The medicine went down fine and I started to feed little bits of the soft, wet chow. With the very first piece of food, he had a knee jerk reaction and backed off very fast. I immediately stopped feeding and waited for a few seconds. In those few seconds, blood was starting to come out of his mouth and he started coughing. I immediately grabbed a cotton swab and kept the blood away from the tracheal opening. The bleed was too heavy and there was no way to prevent the blood from going down the wrong pipe. He stopped breathing so I tried pumping his chest but that didnt do any good so he was gone.
What happened? What happened is that canker can bury itself deeply into the tissues and break capillaries open. When that occurs, anything can start a bleed. When the canker medication started to work, it loosened the canker overnight and that opened the possibility of a bleed. There was no way of knowing this would happen. Anything would have caused the bird to hemorrhage and the first piece of food broke an already loosening canker. The result was inevitable.
Did I do anything wrong? I dont know. I felt that tube feeding was too dangerous. I didnt really know how far down the canker was and if I could get a tube passed it. He had to be medicated but I didnt take any chances that the pill would be too large, so I broke them down into little pieces. He had to be fed. He couldnt be allowed to live off his body fat because he was already very weak. There was seed in the cage for him but he was simply in too much pain to eat on his own.
Over the past couple of months, I had picked up a number of birds with canker and treated them with success. This is the first failure for me in months with any pigeon for whatever reason and this is the one Im going to linger on for quite a while. I dont think I did anything to cause the death of this bird. There was going to be a bleed no matter what I did. The medication was working but the loosening canker was going to cause a bleed at the slightest provocation. If only are the saddest words in the English language. If I had known there was going to be a killer bleed, I could have taken the bird to a vet who would have done a small surgical procedure to put a tube directly into the crop for food, water and medication but who knew? This surgical procedure would have bypassed the need for anything going down the throat until the canker cleared up. I had no reason to believe that this bird would bleed but I took all the precautions possible anyway in order to avoid one and it still bled.
Still, there is always the element of guilt feelings and Ill be thinking about whether I did anything wrong for quite some time. I dont think I did anything wrong. I think the bleed was inevitable. I think I took all the necessary precautions but
I have to put this behind me if I am going to go out there again and see if there is a bird in trouble. I dont feel like it but Ill force myself. This is a very hard knock. There are other birds out there with this disease and Im out to get them before they die. All you can do is your best. Can you put a failure like this behind you and keep going? Will you allow your confidence to erode because of one bad incident? You think you are doing everything right and something bad still happens. As I said, only you can answer these questions. For me, I feel pretty lousy right now but Im going to go outside a little later to feed the birds and see of any of them are in trouble.
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