By Janet Tappin Coelho
A baby bird, known as a hoodie, has a new prosthetic pecker after a vet repaired its badly deformed beak using 3D printing technology.
Giada, a one year old Hooded Crow, has become the first bird to get a reconstructed upper beak in an international collaboration between Italy and Brazil as video footage and images were released on Tuesday (9) of the first procedure of its kind in Europe.
Now Giada can eat on his own and the young crow has taken a liking to guzzling down a mixture of pellets for parrots and dried food for dogs.
Before the operation, the disabled bird had to be hand fed by volunteers at an animal welfare centre with specially prepared soft meals.
The dehydrated fledgling was found weak and starving on the street eight months ago after suffering a trauma injury in the wild.
Veterinarian surgeon Dr Lorenzo Crosta, who specialises in treating avian patients at his Lecco Montevecchia clinic in Milan, agreed to fit a prosthetic device on the stump, which was all that was left of the upper beak.
He revealed: “This was a tricky case to resolve as we have never done anything like it in Italy before.
“We needed to draw on the expertise of someone who has already saved the lives of a range of birds by designing similar prosthetic devices.”
They called on the skills of leading Brazilian 3D digital graphic designer, Cicero Moraes, who has been involved in creating replacement beaks for parrots, geese and macaws among others.
A CT scan was taken of the hoodie’s head in Italy and the files sent to Moraes, in Sinop, central west Brazil. He produced a 3D digital image completing the crow’s beak.
Crosta explained “Cicero didn’t know what the bird looked like because they don’t have this species in Brazil, so I had to send him pictures of the crow so he could draw it with accuracy.
“He sent back the 3D image with instructions on how to fit it onto the stump.”
Photography technician, Antonio Bencini, in Milan, printed six artificial beaks in biodegradable plastic.
Bencini said: “I used three different plastic materials with different elasticity, different strength, different hardness and different physical features to give Lorenzo the choice of finding the best fit for the bird.”
The new nozzle was attached in an hour-long procedure on April 29 as Crosta tested all six beaks to see which one was most suitable.
The vet who calls himself the bird-man said: “Four of us were involved in the surgery, two monitoring Giada’s heart rate and respiration while I worked with an assistant on the beak.
“We eventually selected one of the six models and reshaped the deformed stump, smoothing down the prosthesis with a drummel to get the right fit.”
The bird expert used a special surgical glue instead of metal screws to attach the prosthetic device as a bird’s bill grows like finger nails.
Crosta explained: “Depending on the species of bird each one has a different pattern of growth of the beak. I’m expecting a new layer to develop on top of Giada’s beak within six months to a year which will cause the prosthetic device to peel off.”
When it does, the vet said he’ll simply replace it with one of the spares.
But it means Giada can never return to the wild because of the risk of losing his beak again.
For now he is being kept in an aviary run by the Ethical and Environmental Protection of Animals charity (META) who found the injured animal.
META Volunteer, Andrea Sinesi, said: “This has been a difficult journey for Giada. We had to take him to the vet many times for consultations, examinations and evaluations.
“But it’s been worth it because without this intervention he would have died.”
Giada has adapted quickly to his new attachment but the charity reported that for some ‘strange reason’ the crow refuses to eat in front of its minders.
“We have tried filming him eating, but every time we do he stops. Yet as soon as we leave he gobbles up his food,” laughed Sinesi.
“Still that’s the least of our worries. Because now Giada is assured of a dignified life with some independence even though he isn’t completely free,” he said.