On November 20, Bufflehead duck #18-3068 was admitted from Louisa County. The duck was found on the side of the road near a pond, unable to fly.
During the initial exam, the duck was weak and had difficulty holding up her head. The natural waterproofing of her feathers was compromised, indicating that she had possibly been out of the water for a short period of time. Despite a thorough physical examination, radiographs, and blood work, a clear diagnosis for the duck’s neurologic symptoms could not be identified; all results appeared to be relatively within normal limits.
The veterinary team prescribed a short course of anti-inflammatories, but no other treatment was required. The vet team planned to monitor the bird for other symptoms that could assist with a diagnosis if the duck’s mentation did not improve.
It’s important for this species to have access to water so they can eat and maintain the waterproofing on their feathers. The veterinary team started to swim the duck in very shallow water with close supervision. At first, the duck had a hard time remaining upright while swimming, but she quickly improved; after a few days, the veterinary staff was able to increase the depth of water and the frequency and lengths of her swims.
The duck has a very healthy appetite; during each swim, the staff offer her as many mealworms and bloodworms that she will eat.
By November 29, the duck’s neurologic symptoms had resolved and her waterproofing had improved enough for her to move outside for part of the day. Rehabilitator Kelsey set up an aviary enclosure for the duck; enclosure AV2 has an appropriately deep pool that will allow this duck to swim and dive for her food.
Because these ducks spend much of their lives in the water, their feet are set further back on their bodies (to assist with swimming and diving) than some other species of waterfowl; managing a Bufflehead’s feet in captivity can be a challenge, and special care must be taken to avoid lesions developing on their feet. Kelsey has partitioned off part of the aviary enclosure to minimize access to the rocky substrate, and she will cover the remaining floor space with soft materials (like foam padding and sheets) that will be cleaned and changed daily.
Because this is a species of duck that may be hunted in Virginia, Bufflehead #18-3068 will remain at the Center until late December for an appropriate drug withdrawal period.