Vet Files: Innovative Treatment Saves Bufflehead With Bill Fractures

Female Bufflehead with multiple fractures of the bill after surgery to place pins and epoxy in place for its fractured mandible. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds/International Bird Rescue
Fast-setting epoxy was used to hold six tiny pins placed in both sides of this lady Bufflehead’s jaw. Photo by Dr. Rebecca Duerr/International Bird Rescue

Our veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, had to think creatively when a female Bufflehead came into care with multiple fractures of the bill. Buffleheads are North America’s smallest diving duck and this one weighed in at only 260g on arrival, making this patient’s injuries particularly difficult to treat.

The bones in her mandibles were very small, so Dr. Duerr decided to miniaturize a technique she had used successfully in the past on bigger bird bills. She placed angled pins into the bill on either side of each fracture through a piece of specialized bandage, which acts as a gasket between bill and epoxy. The pins were then embedded in quick-setting epoxy to hold them in place. Since this Bufflehead’s small bill was broken in so many spots, Dr. Duerr had to use very fine needles as pins and take extreme care when embedding them in epoxy so as to not make the apparatus too heavy for the little bird. It was then a matter of waiting to see how well this duck’s broken bones would heal.

Another big concern for this bird was her species. Buffleheads have very delicate feet that are not built for standing around like a mallard. Their toe skin can easily become damaged by being out of the water, which puts them at risk for tendon and bone problems. For this reason, we typically try to get patients like this one living in the water full time as soon as possible, even though orthopedic pins are not generally advisable to soak in water due to the risk of infection. In balancing the best approach to her recovery we decided her prognosis for a good outcome would be to let her swim in the pool despite the pins in her bill.

The pins holding her mouth together didn’t slow this Bufflehead down one bit! She spent almost two weeks swimming around in one of our outdoor pools, seemingly uninhibited by her unique apparatus. Once the pins were removed, the holes healed up quickly and she was soon ready for release. Thanks to the clever treatment and attentive care she received from the staff and volunteers at Bird Rescue, this resilient little Bufflehead returned to her natural home in the wild, just 26 days after she had been admitted.

After the pins were removed, the holes healed up quickly and the Bufflehead was soon released. Photo by Dr. Rebecca Duerr/International Bird Rescue

2 thoughts on “Vet Files: Innovative Treatment Saves Bufflehead With Bill Fractures”

  1. This is an amazing story! Huge kudos to the innovative vet and everyone involved in this bird’s care. It’s wonderful to know that people like you are out there combating the general cruelness of the world. This beautiful duck owes all of her days from now on to your hard work and generosity.

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