A Brandt’s Cormorant came to us last week after ingesting a fish hook and having two others lodged in its mouth. The two in its mouth were removed by our colleagues at Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz, but the hook that had been swallowed was a potential serious problem that may have needed surgery; hence, the bird was transferred to us for further care.
On radiographs, the hook appeared to be located in the bird’s ventriculus (the second of a bird’s stomachs), but it was not obviously hooked through the stomach wall. Because the hook appeared to be free floating inside the stomach, and surgery is always a serious undertaking that we try to avoid whenever possible, we used a low-tech technique to encourage the bird to regurgitate the hook. This method lets us avoid invasive surgery on a sizable proportion of birds that ingest hooks. We call this treatment “cotton-balling”…although we don’t use actual cotton balls.
Cotton-balling is when we stuff thick wads of cotton cast padding inside several fish and force feed the fish to the bird. The cotton increases the amount of indigestible material in the bird’s stomach and becomes entangled with the hook inside of the bird’s stomach. If all goes as planned, the bird regurgitates the indigestible cotton, and the hook comes out with it! We cotton-balled the cormorant on Wednesday, but no hook appeared. We cotton-balled again on Thursday, but still no hook regurgitated. However, on Friday, we were rewarded with the hook found on the bottom of the aviary! This method does not always work, but thankfully it did work this time. No surgery needed!
The bird remains in care receiving treatment for the wounds in its mouth, and is slowly gaining weight and recovering from pretty severe emaciation and anemia.
You can see the bird’s radiographs from October 6, and the hook after being regurgitated (and cleaned) on October 9. The bird has a metal federal band on its leg which is visible in the radiograph as a solid white shape around its leg. An added bonus: we learned the bird was banded at the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge as a chick two years ago!