Chick survives broken beak after emergency op
A yellow-billed kite chick has survived a broken beak after undergoing reconstructive surgery just nine days after hatching.
The chick, named Beaky, suffered severe damage in his incubation period but is now flourishing and expected to live a normal quality of life for up to 25 years.
Beaky grew too big for his shell before hatching, which forced his beak to bend against the pressure of the shell and break.
Experts at Vets Now Referrals in Swindon, Wiltshire, decided to take emergency action early to ensure Beaky would stand a chance of survival.
Vet Neil Forbes put Beaky under anaesthetic before breaking both sides of the chick's lower jaw to reposition it into a normal position.
An acrylic support was then fitted around the beak to keep it in a straight position to promote healing while allowing future normal growth.
Beaky recovered quickly after the operation and is now able to eat for himself - a vital action his previously deformed beak prevented.
Mr Forbes, a UK and EU recognised specialist in avian medicine, said: "This is the youngest age at which we have needed to break and reset a lower jaw of any bird and it was a challenging and complex procedure.
"I'm absolutely thrilled with the results of the operation. We've essentially taken a chick that was a cripple and that stood no chance of survival and have given him another chance at life."
Beaky's egg was laid in captivity at the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) in Newent, Gloucestershire, by a hen who had previously failed to raise her chicks.
Two eggs - those of Beaky and a sibling - were transported to artificial incubation to help boost their chances of survival.
Both chicks suffered from complications in their development, causing the other chick to die 48 hours after being hatched.
"Due to the weather conditions, insufficient weight loss had occurred in the eggs during incubation causing them to be too large, which ultimately led to the critical deformation of their beaks," Mr Forbes said.
"We had hoped that the sibling would survive but the health complications were too severe."
Holly Cale, curator at the ICBP, hand-reared Beaky along with her colleagues until he was nine days old and could feasibly be operated on.
By this time, Becky's lower beak had already healed at an angle of 90 degrees and was pointing towards the floor.
The deformity was extremely painful for the chick but also severely affected his chances of survival as he would have been unable to eat for himself.
Mr Forbes added: "At nine days old, there are of course considerable risk factors involved in undergoing such a lengthy anaesthetic.
"However the biggest issue at such a young age is the softness of the beak - getting the hard acrylic of the cast to stay on the beak was a major problem - especially seeing as the beak is so small.
"Everything had to be executed with the utmost care so as not to adversely affect Beaky's ongoing normal growth."
After six days, the cast was removed and revealed that Beaky's bones had completely healed - with the abnormality of his beak completely corrected.
The chick was returned to the centre, where he quickly grasped eating for himself and began behaving like a normal bird of his age and species.
Beaky will be reared and trained at the ICBP before being transported to Belgium with his siblings to form part of a new demonstration team there.
Ms Cale said: "Beaky has recovered amazingly well - he was feeding the very next day after being returned to us.
"Neil deals with all of the cases we have here. He's amazing, he's always on the end of the phone when we need him and he's become a great friend of the centre.
"We're so delighted that the emergency surgery was such a success with Beaky and, despite everything, he is now thriving."