We received an evening call that a nestling kereru (a New Zealand native pigeon) had been found on the ground next to a recently cut down tree.
When expecting an injured bird, it is essential to ensure you have everything ready or easily accessible. You do not want to be wasting time finding and organising things once your patient has arrived. We always had a tub with all the necessary non-perishable supplies and various temporary 'hospital cages' with towels and hot water bottles ready to go. We cannot repeat this often enough.
We did a visual check on arrival while the bird was still in the transport box. The chick, although a nestling, was fully feathered with a few tufts of down. It appeared alert, and there were no signs of drooping wings or listing sideways. We did a tip-to-tail physical examination and could not find any apparent injuries. However, we noticed the chick was not standing or gripping well during the examination and appeared to flinch ever so slightly when we felt around the pelvis and lower back area, which indicated possible bruising or fracture: an x-ray would be required in the morning. The chick did not feel underweight, but the crop was empty, so we took the opportunity to weigh him at this time (294g).
After being examined, the kereru chick would have been stressed and feeling quite sore. We already had a hospital cage set up with a heating pad and a soft, low perch/nest for the chick to sit and warm up comfortably. We placed the chick inside and covered the cage to allow the chick to de-stress and warm up. Fluids and food would follow, but only once the chick was warm and not so stressed.
We prepared the cage shown above and placed it on a heating pad for warmth. We used a white towel so it would be easy to see the faeces colour and consistency when the bird passed a stool. If it is black or there is blood in the stool, there could be internal bleeding.
5.00pm – We phoned the vet for advice regarding medications and an appointment for a vet check and x-ray. We also organised our fluid, food and equipment for when the kereru had warmed up.
5.30 pm – We made up some Spark Liquid and Poly Aid Plus, per the manufacturer's instructions. We drew up about 15mls of Spark, which was warmed and mixed with the Poly Aid Plus and slowly tube fed the chick with a syringe and crop tube, giving a little at a time. We also administered some Metacam (meloxicam) to assist the bird with pain on veterinary recommendation.
6.30pm - We added a small amount of Kaytee's Hand Rearing Mix to the fluids. We fed the same amount as before – 15mls.
7.30 pm – We felt the crop, it had emptied; we also checked the droppings, there was none, but the chick kindly deposited some urates on the blue groundsheet while tubing it.
9.30 pm – We re-checked the faeces, and it had gone a dark green and was formed. We changed the bedding and again tubed 15mls of a very liquid Kaytee's with an electrolyte solution.
Day 2 –
6.30 am - We weighed (290g) and tube fed the kereru with Kaytee's and electrolytes, increasing the amount to 20mls. We again examined the droppings, and there was a definite improvement in the colour and consistency! We removed and replaced the soiled substrate.
8.30 am – Kereru was taken to the vet, looking perkier, even lifting a wing in defence!
● X-rays were taken, and a fracture in the pelvis was diagnosed
● A swab of the mouth was taken, and candidiasis was detected
● Faeces sample taken
● Confinement in a hospital cage (usually 3-4 weeks)
● Medications prescribed – Panacur (fenbendazole) for worms, Nystatin and Flagyl (metronidazole) for Candida and Metacam with fluids for pain
Day 3 – 5
We weighed the bird daily, monitoring for incremental weight gain. We continued to tube feed three times a day with Kaytee's and electrolytes. The chick was progressing well.
Day 6 – to release (4 months)
● Weighed chick daily until transferred to an aviary
● The food quantity was increased as the chick grew
● Monitored faeces daily
● Tube fed three times per day until self-feeding – Worked up to 35mls per feed – pureed veg and fruit
● Candida cleared after a short course of medications
● Chick began standing and perching on a thick low branch after about three weeks
● Started self-feeding after four weeks in care – peas, corn and a variety of veg and seasonal fruits
After four months in care, the chick was soft-released (The Department of Conservation was aware that the bird was overstaying the three-month permit deadline). He had recovered well in the aviary, had full use of his legs and was flying well at the time of release. His release weight was 626g (a normal weight for this species).
Written by Mandy Robertson
Wildlife Rehabilitator & Co-founder of Learn Bird Care Ltd.
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