CROW Case of the Week: Roseate Spoonbill (#18-1768)

The roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is a long-legged, medium-sized wading bird that has been called majestic and flamboyant – not necessarily in the same sentence. The plumage of an immature spoonbill is a pale pink and becomes a brighter and more impressive pink color as it grows into an adult.

Roseate spoonbills sport an oddly shaped bill that resembles and works like a spoon. With it, they feed in shallow waters, walking forward slowly while swinging their heads from side to side. This sweeping action with their wide flat bills helps to sift muck and enables them to detect their next meal by feel. Once they detect the prey on their bill, they snap it closed, often swallowing the catch whole. 

Interestingly, this social bird is only one of six species of spoonbills found in the world and the only one spotted in the Americas. Similar to balding men, they actually lose their feathers from the top of the head as they get older. Roseate spoonbills are mostly found in coastal Florida, Texas and southwest Louisiana. They went through an early period of being endangered, but have made a comeback, including a 6.5 -percent increase in a recent 50-year span.

At CROW, a juvenile roseate spoonbill was admitted to the hospital from JN ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge with an injured wing. An intake exam and x-rays revealed the bird had a fractured right major metacarpal. The patient was taken into surgery a day after intake, and three cross pins were placed in the bone.

“The injury was a fracture of the major metacarpal bone, which is a bone towards the edge of the wing. The fracture was close to the carpus joint, which can make full healing difficult, but we were able to stabilize it with an external fixator,” said Dr. Malka Spektor, CROW veterinary intern. “The surgery involved first realigning the bone, then drilling pins into the segments and connecting them with an external bar for stabilization.”

A straw was placed across the pins, and methyl methacrylate glue was applied into the straw to maintain rigidity and support. This is known as an external fixator. Once in place, the pin placement and incision sites were covered in triple antibiotic ointment and bandaged. The wing was placed in a figure-8 wrap to immobilize the wing. 

“The purpose for the cross pins and external fixator are to be able to align and stabilize the fracture. If we placed a pin into the bone, it would have involved the joint, which can prevent full healing in the long run,” said Dr. Spektor. “The pins and fixator are a great option for stabilization of the fracture without causing too much trauma to the rest of the wing.”

After a few days in the figure-8 bandage, the patient was switched to a body wrap, a move that produced less restriction in the wing area, said Dr. Spektor. “The pins will stay in until the bone builds a strong callus so it is stable on its own, which usually takes three to four weeks,” she noted.

After two weeks at the clinic, the patient’s condition is improving in a slow but sure fashion. “The spoonbill is getting physical therapy every three days to prevent contracture of the wing while it is healing,” added Dr. Spektor. “The spoonbill will likely be with us for at least a few more weeks while we wait for the bone to heal, and for the patient to rebuild strength. The patient eats well, and seems to be doing well through the healing process so far.” 


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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