Once upon a time there was a sandhill crane named Chickie Pants. Well, in all fairness, that is probably not the name his biological parents gave him. But since it can sometimes be difficult to translate Cranese to modern English (the accent alone make most words almost impossible to pronounce) his foster parents at Peace River Wildlife Center dubbed him with this less-than-regal moniker.
Chickie was admitted to PRWC in May 2013 along with a sibling. His brother had gotten caught in a barbed wire fence and had to be cut out. When the rescuer arrived, the crane that was tangled in the fence was not alone. His parents and sibling were waiting there with him. The young crane was transported to PRWC to treat the wounds sustained from his encounter with the barbed wire. The other young crane was scooped up also because his beak was slightly off-kilter and we had hoped his presence would keep the injured crane from being too stressed.
Unfortunately, Chickie’s brother did not survive his ordeal. He had suffered spinal trauma from struggling against his entanglement and passed away after several days despite intensive treatment. Chickie, on the other hand, thrived in captivity. As he grew though, his beak got more and more deformed. What had started as a minor scissor beak deviation, the top grew off to one side while the bottom curved to the other side, became so bad that Chickie would not have been able to feed himself in the wild. He requires timely trimming of the beak and certain foods in special bowls that allow him to eat.
After a few months with us, Chickie’s leg started to show signs of a problem also. His right “ankle” (a bird’s ankle joint is at the approximate level of a mammal’s knee) would twist inward at times when he was walking. It was subtle at first, but got progressively worse. We tried bracing it, but that did not help. X-rays showed that the bones were normal, but there was apparently a soft-tissue problem, similar to a football player with an MCL injury. We were completely unaware of Chickie having tried out for the Bucs, but perhaps if he had made the team they would have fared a little better than 9 wins and 7 losses this season. But since Chickie was sidelined with a medial collateral ligament injury anyway, it was probably a moot point.
Jason Eisele, DVM with Specialized Veterinary Services in Fort Myers performed orthopedic surgery on to stabilize the joint in January 2014. Screws were placed above and below the joint, and a thick nylon thread was stretched between the two to reinforce the joint against medial laxity.
We do not always go to such extremes for a wild animal. Most would not tolerate these ministrations, but Chickie Pants handles it all with aplomb. He eats his crane pellets, worms, and fish out of his deep bucket. He loves his handlers and got along well with the other birds at the pelican pond until recently.
Unfortunately, nature has caught up with our beloved Chickie Pants. No, we haven’t lost him. Much worse. He is now an adolescent with all of the raging hormones and bad attitude that go with that diagnosis. He has been challenging our elderly resident male sandhill crane, Shakey Legs, for alpha status.
Shakey became an education bird at PRWC when his left wing was amputated after a devastating injury over 20 years ago. He is not only less than nimble now, he has a type of bone cancer in his remaining wing. Since the treatment options are severely limited (we can’t amputate his only wing), Shakey is living out his life as comfortably as we can make him. The good news is that he seems unaware of his declining health. He eats well and goes about his normal routine with his mate, Maleficent.
So Chickie has been cast out of the pelican pond area where he used to live until Shakey passes. Only then will it be safe to reintroduce him and Maleficent, who will undoubtedly accept Chickie as her new mate, since they have known each other for years.
For now, Chickie spends his days in the walkway between the visitor’s area and the bird habitats. He has made a nest on some ground cover plants—flattened then like pancakes! He shares his food bucket with a cheeky little wild raccoon that sneaks in when we have our backs turned. He limps sometimes on his bad leg and has to have his beak dremeled weekly, but he also seems unaware of his physical limitations.
While he never would have survived in the wild, Chickie Pants has the personality of a Disney character and it is impossible not to fall in love with him, even if he is acting like a bratty teenager right now.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM