Partial Wing Amputation - Adult Waterfowl (Disease Investigation & Control - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Control / Treatment & Care / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords Pinioning Waterfowl - Adults. Flight restraint.

(See also: Pinioning Waterfowl (Downies), Feather Clipping of Waterfowl, Flight Netting, Wing Amputation - Adult Waterfowl)

Description Partial wing amputation which removes the portion of the wing distal to the 'bastard-wing' or alula. The portion removed is the part of the wing on which the primary flight feathers grow and is equivalent to the portion of the wing removed when downies are pinioned. The following description outlines the procedure as described by Humphreys (B11.36.w4), Olsen (B13.46.w1) and LaBonde (P4.1992.w1).
  • Anaesthetise - General anaesthesia.
  • Remove feathers from carpus to midway on metacarpals III (major) and IV (minor).
  • Place tourniquet on wing at the level of the humerus.
  • Prepare the skin with povidone iodine and alcohol.
  • Incise skin, at a position between mid-shaft and the proximal 1/3 of metacarpals III and IV.
  • Incise muscle and fascia, down to bone.
  • Bluntly dissect soft tissue, pushing tissue proximally to expose the metacarpal bones as far proximally towards the alula as possible.
  • Place two ligatures a) one ligature around the proximal end of metacarpal III just distal to the alula (proximal to the point at which metacarpal IV splits off), incorporating as much interosseous tissue as possible, using e.g. 2-0 absorbable suture material; b) place a second ligature around the proximal end of metacarpal IV, also incorporating as much interosseus tissue as possible, using e.g. 2-0 absorbable suture material.
  • Cut metacarpal III and metacarpal IV with a bone saw. N.B. Considerable care is required to avoid splintering the bone
  • Ligate vessels as required (B13.46.w1); ligate major intraosseous artery (P4.1992.w1).
  • Pull skin and muscle over cut ends of bone and suture muscle and fascia to provide a protective pad over the cut end of the bone.
  • Suture skin (loosely with horizontal mattress sutures to avoid pressure necrosis and/or sealing with surgical glue is suggested (B13.46.w1); (a continuous (running) suture may be preferable to avoid pressure necrosis - this also may be sealed with surgical glue. If absorbable sutures are used, removal is usually unnecessary.) (V.w6).
  • Apply a pressure bandage to control haemorrhage and protect the surgical site.

(Based on: B11.36.w4, B13.46.w1, P4.1992.w1)

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Following severe injury to the distal end of the wing.
  • May be required in birds with 'angel wing' in whom the tip of the wing is constantly being damaged (B14).
  • This surgical procedure should not be undertaken as a routine management procedure.
  • Treatment of some types of Impact Injuries, Crushing.
  • Sealing the skin with surgical glue, instead of or in addition to suturing, may allow immediate return to water (B13.46.w1).
  • Pinioning under local anaesthesia is described in some texts; this is now considered unacceptable (V.w5, V.w6).
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Partial wing amputation is permanent and irreversible: a bird which has undergone this procedure will never be able to fly.
  • Care must be taken to ensure sufficient soft tissue is available to adequately cover the stump of the bone (V.w6).
  • Poor procedure or rough handling may result in aberrant feather growth (P4.1992.w1).
  • Haemorrhage and bruising may occur (P4.1992.w1).
  • Bandaging for ten days is recommended to protect the surgical site (P4.1992.w1).
  • Cutting the bone with bone forceps or scissors may cause splintering (B13.46.w1).
  • The sharp end of the bone may penetrate the suture line if there is insufficient muscle/fascial padding or if suturing is inadequate. Surgical glues should only be relied upon as the sole means of opposing the skin margins if the underlying tissues are sufficiently well sutured. Absorbable sutures in the skin, combined with surgical glue is often a preferred combination and removal of such skin sutures is usually unnecessary (V.w6).
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Anaesthetic equipment
  • Surgical equipment
  • Suture materials - including surgical glue if used.
Expertise level / Ease of Use Procedure should only be undertaken by an individual with appropriate clinical training and practical experience; this would usually be a veterinarian.
Cost/ Availability Expensive procedure due to requirement for full veterinary surgical procedure to be undertaken under general anaesthesia.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • This is a mutilation and as such should never be undertaken lightly. In the UK it is illegal for waterfowl to be pinioned if they are to be kept on agricultural land (The Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) Regulations, 1982) (B11.1.w15).
  • Partial wing amputation (pinioning) of adult waterfowl is a major surgical operation.
  • N.B. In the UK it is illegal for anyone who is not a veterinary surgeon to pinion a bird from the age of ten days. (B11.33.w11)
  • It may be an offence to allow waterfowl to escape: for example in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) it is an offence to release exotic (non-native) species into the wild.

In some countries there may be legislation restricting the use of this type of technique to licensed veterinarians. For example in the UK: "The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (Section 19) provides, subject to a number of exceptions, that only registered members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons may practice veterinary surgery."(see: LCofC1 - RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct 2000 - Treatment of Animals by Non-Veterinary Surgeons).).

Author Debra Bourne
Referee Suzanne I Boardman
References B11.1.w15, B11.33.w11, B11.36.w4, B13.46.w1, B14, P4.1992.w1, V.w5, V.w6

Return to Top of Page