Throughout this post I refer to the chick as a “he”, mostly. However, these chicks’ gender is still unknown.
My friends’ hen hid in the goat barn and hatched herself a little brood this early spring. The two survivors were the cutest things, skittish little white puffs tightly attached to mom, learning to scratch, and changing every day – growing new feathers and little tails overnight.
Then one morning they spotted what looked like a plastic bag hanging in an odd place in the paddock. Through the binoculars it was definitely one of the chicks, hanging upside down, apparently dead. While P was looking at it though, the chick turned its head and looked at him looking. “It’s alive!”
He ran outside to retrieve the little bird and had to cut it free from where it had got its foot tangled and been suspended. I first saw it in his hand, wrapped in a towel. It looked awful. One leg was stretched out straight and unnaturally. Motionless, fully extended and obviously useless, it was generally assumed broken. Prepared to tape it up with electrical tape, I palpated the little bird bones all the way from heel to hip but didn’t find any obvious breaks. The bird reacted minimally, although it was dozing off because he was being held with his head low. His leg looked awful, though, hanging useless from his “hip”, so I figured at the least his tendons were all torn.
Would the bird survive? He was put in a box, ate a bit of food and promptly pooped, which was hopeful, but he couldn’t drag himself around at all, and the lifeless leg stayed stretched out behind him at a pathetic, painful angle.
I consulted Google, found this, and crushed up an aspirin to feed him on a bit of juicy mango peel, prompting H.W. to dub me Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
(Do not feed poultry ibuprofen! Or the whole aspirin! See the link)
Mostly the chick sat still and quiet with his good foot under him and and the other sticking out horribly; sometimes he sent up a loud wave of lonely peeps.
Later in the day after the aspirin, I grabbed the chick, who flapped and dragged himself through his water dish in a pathetic attempt to escape, to inspect his/her leg again. This time I bent the leg gently through the whole natural range of motion a couple of times and was satisfied it wasn’t broken, although it was clearly badly damaged. He couldn’t grab my finger with his foot the way he did with the other foot, and it was stiff and lifeless.
Still later that night, I checked on him again randomly, and he was sitting with both feet drawn up under his body!
More surprisingly, the next morning, when I lifted the lid off his box, he promptly flew up to the edge of the box in an escape attempt. I inspected his/her leg again and this time he could grip a little with it. He hopped around his box a bit, too, when encouraged, but with an awful limp. It still looked broken, even, wobbling and dragging behind him.
But by that afternoon, he/she was standing on both legs, like normal, and clearly very lonely. It seemed a miraculous recovery.
I thought I would reintroduce him to his mom just before bedtime so he could still have more rest but be with her before he got emotionally stunted. I misjudged when she was retiring, though, and put him back out with almost an hour of active foraging left.
It was adorable! I put him down and he ran to her as fast as he could, but it was down a slope so that at the end he wiped out and slid into her legs like he was sliding into base. She just looked at him, and that was all. All three of them resumed waddling and pecking like nothing had happened. I was worried he hadn’t had enough rest and his limp would get worse with the sudden return to exercise, but he was managing fine, keeping up.
By the middle of the next day, the two chicks were indistinguishable again. From how awful he looked initially, it was a miracle recovery.
Our best guesses are that he may have been hung upside down for a long time, even overnight, and that his leg emptied of blood. Perhaps his vessels collapsed or even had nerve damage with a v
ery extreme case of having one’s foot fall asleep, so it took a long time to get back circulation and reennervate. Perhaps he had strained or over stretched muscles or tendons that bounced back with the rest.
At any rate, a chick that seemed a hopeless writeoff returned to being a normal chick in 48 hours, and although his leg looked broken, it wasn’t at all. I’ll be more inclined now to care for and nurture damaged animals in case they are able to recover. It might not be as bad as it looks.