Meet Cappi. He is a Yellow Naped Amazon currently owned by Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue (MCBR). Cappi is a great bird, very vocal and just loves his foster dad.
In this picture, you can see Cappi’s problem – he has a large overinflated airsac. It’s the fleshy looking bubble on his back. Air goes in, but air doesn’t come out.
What’s Going on Here?
Birds have a very different anatomy when it comes to breathing. They still have lungs, just like us, but they also have a system of air sacs that present throughout most of the body. When we breathe oxygenated air goes into our lungs, drops off the oxygen and exits when we exhale.
The journey air takes through the bird’s respiratory tract is a little more complex. It’s best described by following a single molecule. On the first breath in, air travels past the lungs and into the caudal air sacs (caudal thoracic and abdominal). This leaves oxygen-rich gas in what amounts to a storage tank. This O2-rich gas is moved on the first exhalation into the lungs where gas exchange occurs. On the second inhalation, the now O2-depleted air moves into the cranial air sacs (cervicocephalic, cranial thoracic) where it waits to finally exit the body with the second exhalation.
Ok, it’s actually more complex than that because when a bird breaths in, only half the air goes straight down into the caudal air sacs…the other half enters the lungs. It takes a bit to get your mind wrapped around that so I like to just follow one molecule at a time!
For more info, check out this explanation.
Why So Complex?
When a bird breaths in, oxygenated gases pass through the lungs allowing gas exchange.
When a bird breaths out, oxygenated gases pass through the lungs allowing gas exchange!
They are able to get oxygen into their bodies at 2X the rate of mammals. This is a great adaptation for flight.
Back to Cappi…
Cappi’s cervicocephalic air sacs aren’t working right – they seem to have a one-way valve. We don’t know why it happened to Cappi but physical trauma and infection are two common causes.
For many birds, poking a hole into that air sac and squeezing out all the air is a great temporary fix. Birds don’t have a lot of nerves in their skin and the air sac is really quite like a balloon so it doesn’t hurt. The problem is that this tiny hole heals over very quickly. The procedure needs to be repeated frequently.
Because Cappi’s air sac problem was so extensive (you really cannot see it in the photos) we decided to try a surgical option – a teflon stent. This creates a permanent opening to allow air out.
Here is Cappi getting prepped for surgery.
Look how that air sac deflated once we put a hole in it – the stent is already in place in this picture. The close up shows the use of stainless steel suture (yes we want that suture to be permanent). We use the sterile needle to pull suture through the skin.
All done – what a nice opening.
We placed the stent where Cappi can’t reach it, in case he tries.
Here’s Cappi just an hour after surgery. No more giant balloons under the skin.