Duck gets beak of steel

JOEL MAXWELL
Last updated 14:06 12/07/2012
ducky2
REBECCA THOMSON

Bionic beak: Birdcage mesh is wired around the duck's beak like a set of braces.

ducky3
REBECCA THOMSON
TOUGH DUCK: Wellington Bird Rehabilitation Trust's Craig Shepherd with the duck that underwent world first surgery to fix its beak.

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A Kapiti "roboduck" has a steel-reinforced beak after apparent world first surgery using birdcage mesh.

The mallard was rescued by Wellington SPCA's Kapiti shelter after it was found with its bottom beak torn off and broken - leaving its tongue hanging through a hole under its chin.

A bid to surgically reattach the beak eventually failed and now the Wellington Bird Rehabilitation Trust in Ohariu Valley has come up with a groundbreaking solution.

Trust spokesman Craig Shepherd said the duck went through five procedures to try and save its beak and its life, before the sixth proved successful.

"We've wrapped some fine, stainless steel mesh around it and wired it all up. It looks a bit like a set of braces you might see on a human. Except it's on the bottom beak, and it's been really successful."

The idea to use the 3mm gauge mesh, which lines the trust's main aviary and is fine enough to stop rat invasions, was Shepherd's. "We had a fair bit left over," he said.

Since it received its permanent steel reinforcement, the duck dubbed Beaky has been "feisty as hell" and putting on weight.

Shepherd said in total the operations cost several hundred dollars - which might seem a lot for a common mallard but provides useful tips for dealing with more valuable birds.

"For example if we had a brown teal, an endangered bird, with a similar injury, this is something we could do."

The duck will spend the rest of his life at the trust aviary alongside a handful of other ducks with physical problems, including misaligned beaks and cataract blindness, preventing them from surviving in the wild.

Since the duck got its new beak it has been busy trying to establish a spot at the top of "the pecking order" - a trait that saved its life, Shepherd said.

"If he hadn't been such a fighter and so feisty, we probably would've considered euthanasia."

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- Kapiti Observer

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