CROW Case of the Week: Magnificent Frigatebird (#21-5000)

This adult male magnificent frigate bird is patient 5,000 this year photo by Haillie Mesics


The magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) is a large seabird with long, angular wings and a deeply forked tail. According to the results of a study that involved tracking their altitude and distance, frigatebirds were found to routinely stay in air columns around 150 to 2,000 feet, when not searching for prey.

At CROW, an adult male magnificent frigate bird was admitted after being found in the water unable to fly. Upon examination, the patient had several broken tail feathers. Veterinarians suspect some sort of unknown trauma that caused him to fall into the water. Since these birds don’t have waterproofed feathers, they become waterlogged.

“Once the bird is no longer in the water, the feathers can dry appropriately. Until then, the patient is at risk of becoming hypothermic since their feathers provide the main source of insulation,” explained Dr. Laura Kellow, CROW veterinary intern. “This particular bird is lucky he was found by caring people who pulled him out of the water and wrapped him in towels for transport to one of our partner clinics.”

Full radiographs were taken and showed no major abnormalities at first.

“The magnificent frigatebird initially had x-rays that demonstrated a small amount of swelling in one of the bones of his wing – the distal phalanx, which equates to a finger bone in humans. Over time, the swelling increased and, on repeated x-rays, it became evident that he had dislocated this small bone,” said Dr. Kellow. “The dislocation was corrected and splinted to keep the bones in place. The patient is currently on pain medication, antibiotics and antifungal medications. He is fed a size-appropriate fish diet which he eats readily on his own.”

There was also some good news reported about the damaged tail feathers in regard to flight.

“In this particular case, the frigatebird damaged two of his oldest tail feathers, which were already bleached and are likely going to be the first to molt. He already has new feathers, called blood feathers, coming in to replace these tail feathers,” said Dr. Kellow. “While it is not ideal since these feathers provide finesse to turning/flying, these feathers should not prevent flight.”

The patient will continue to be treated at CROW until he makes a full recovery.

“The magnificent frigatebird will receive repeated x-rays this week to evaluate his dislocation, and from there, further plans will be made regarding flight testing and release. Since these patients fly at such high altitudes, it is difficult for us to flight condition them at CROW, and we try to release these patients as soon as possible to prevent muscle atrophy.” should not prevent flight.”

This case marked CROW’s 5,000th patient of the year.

“It is really unique and different that our 5,000th patient this year is a magnificent frigatebird, as we have only had three other patients of this species in our care this year. At the time of writing, we are almost 600 patients ahead of October last year,” said Dr. Kellow. “This means that we are on track for a record-breaking year of over 6,000 patients to last year’s 5,618. Moreover, we hope that this increase in patients means that more people know about the excellent work that happens at CROW and are aware and engaged with helping wildlife in our area.”

CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.

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