CROW Case of the Week: Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is a large woodpecker with a red crest on top of its head. One can distinguish a male from a female by the size and color of the crest. A male tends to have a brighter and larger crest and a red stripe along its cheek. Females do not have the cheek stripe. 

Pileated woodpeckers will make themselves known when they fly into your neighborhood. They are noisy with their drilling technique and whinnying calls. They drum on dead trees in a rectangular pattern to get at ants, particularly carpenter ants, and other insects. Their drumming and whinnying also acts as a territory defensive measure, while the created rectangular holes provide housing or shelter for other birds, owls or bats. 

At CROW, an adult pileated woodpecker was admitted from Fort Myers Beach after appearing to have an injured leg. During the initial intake exam, the patient’s leg was tested for strength, and it was apparent the woodpecker had decreased grip with the right foot.

“The woodpecker was tested at intake by placing a pen or Q-tip in the ‘palm’ of their foot, evaluating to see if they reflexively grasp for it,” said Dr. Megan Cabot, CROW veterinary intern. Veterinarians also suspected a left coracoid fracture, an injury to an area that is similar to a human collar bone. Radiographs indicated there was a fracture, but due to its location near the midline, it was difficult to assess the extent of the injury. 

“The fracture will be allowed to heal on its own with stabilization by a body wrap and rest,” said Dr. Cabot. “There are a lot of structures in that midline area that overlap and make it difficult to see clearly in such a small patient.” The bird was given anti-inflammatory and pain medications and provided with plenty of climbing and habitat enrichment in its enclosure. 

“The woodpecker is provided with upright perches made from wide, hollow logs to mimic tree trunks like those they would perch on and forage from in the wild,” said Dr. Cabot. 

The body wrap will be in place for some time as the pileated woodpecker needs the fracture to be totally mended. “It will take a few weeks to months for the bone to heal,” Dr. Cabot noted. Due to the area of the fracture, it is not a foregone conclusion that the patient will be releasable.

“The woodpecker is doing well so far, keeping the body wrap in place. It is a picky eater but right now the favorite snack is beetles,” added Dr. Cabot. “The bird will likely be with us for a few months while we give it time to heal, but unfortunately the prognosis is guarded for regaining full function of that wing and being released back into the wild.”

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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