Duck can quack again
In a successful duck-to-duck transplant, a beakless, tongueless bird has had a donor bill fitted by a Wellington veterinarian.
The wild mallard duck, named Isa, was operated on by Deborah Kirton who spent hours preparing for the surgery and creating the perfect proboscis for the bird.
‘‘It’s one of the more unusual things I’ve done.’’
Nothing could be done for Isa’s missing tongue but the new beak meant she would be able to eat and had an unexpected benefit, Kirton said. ‘‘Apparently she couldn’t quack before but after the surgery she was quacking straight away.’’
Kirton used a donor beak from a dead duck and worked with epoxy putty and a drill to make it into the right shape for Isa’s face.
While it wasn’t Kirton’s first time fixing a bill, it was the only time she had created a lower beak, or mandible, for a bird.
The new beak was attached by surgical wire to the bony stubs under Isa’s mouth in a hour-long operation during which the duck was supported by a full veterinary team.
A second surgery was needed after the feisty bird tried her brand new beak out on her wire cage, and while the new beak may still need some tweaking, Kirton was thrilled with how Isa had responded so far.
‘‘She even gave me a little peck as she was leaving.’’
It’s been a long road for the little brown duck who flew into a Wellington sanctuary a month ago.
Exhausted and starving, Isa couldn’t have picked a better place to land than the Ohariu property of the Wellington Bird Rehabilitation Trust, where she was spotted trying to feed.
Supervisor and nurse Courtenay Thomas said on closer inspection, she found that, not only was the duck missing her lower beak she had also lost her tongue, the injury thought to be caused by a hunter or an aggressive pukeko.
Isa would eventually move into an outdoor aviary before she is set free on the property with a GPS tracker attached.
The operation meant more ecologically important birds might benefit in the future, she said.
Veterinarian Deborah Kirton says her profession are used to thinking outside the square. Left, the repaired beak.