Case notes

Common Name Black-breasted Buzzard
Scientific Name Hamirostra melanosternon
Status Endangered
Species Notes Often found along watercourses in central Australia.   They are not a true buzzard as originally thought and classed as, and have been referred to as kites historically as it is now believed they are closer in relationship to kites.  They crack open eggs by finding a stone and using as a tool held in their beak, an instinctive/non-taught behaviour.


Size 50-60cm (females larger in all raptors)
Weight 1.2kg – 1.4kg
Date Found 17/5/12
Day 1 I received a call from Ian Falkenberg to arrange collection from Moomba of injured buzzard.  I was flown to Moomba courtesy of Santos to administer sub-cutaneous fluids at Moomba airport to improve her condition for the long journey back to Adelaide.

Another bird was found an hour after the initial call (Brown Falcon) and was to also be freighted to the SA Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Centre.

I took the 1.5hr flight at around 1.30pm, assessed the falcon and found it to be close to death and having only a few minutes to spare between flights (to return to Adelaide same day) I administered subcutaneous fluids to the buzzard as she was emaciated and dehydrated.  The Brown Falcon was dead when collected from the freight depot at the Adelaide Airport approximately 2hrs later.

Santos staff had hurriedly built the most suitable crate for the buzzard that morning, as the pilot rejected her in a cardboard box on the earlier flight.  It was constructed from particle board, and had solid walls allowing the dark to calm during travel, neat airholes, handles and a latch.  All made within a couple of hours. Upon collecting her I was asked by Santos to advise them of the most appropriate crate to build for future injured raptors and I merely replied “you just built it”.  On arrival in Adelaide she was collected from the freight depot (freight paid courtesy of Santos once again) and driven to Williamstown to commence assessment and treatment.


Initial findings and state of health Female 1st year bird with light plumage as compared to adults following several moults

1000g (200g underweight), body condition 2-3 (1 being close to death and 5 being well rounded and healthy)

Dehydrated and emaciated

2-3wk old midshaft complete fracture of the metacarpal bone, showing callous around fracture site indicating time frame from injury and that healing was trying to occur

Joints either side of fracture unaffected and mobile, no oedema or inflammation of soft tissue

2 broken centre tail feathers approximately 1” from skin but imping possible

Lice of varying ages indicating time frame on ground and state of poor health


Treatment Subcutaneous fluid therapy twice daily for 48hrs, heat and crate rest first 24hrs, wing strapped with vetrap in Fig 8 method.

Surgical treatment of this fracture would have been undertaken but at such a late stage (2-3wks from occurrence) it would only cause damage through interference at such a delicate area of the wing

Strapping causes stiffness of joints and is most often avoided except when there is no alternative, as was this case.


Prognosis Generally this fracture carries extremely poor prognosis, however that is usually due to surrounding soft tissue inflammation, oedema and chronic conditions such as arthritis.

Due to the fact the joints are unaffected which are within close proximity to the small bone that was broken, there is guarded but hopeful prognosis.


Radiographs Due the fragile condition of the bird in the first 48hrs it was decided that further transport and handling would cause more harm than good, so radiographs were avoided until they could provide some use.  Radiographs were taken at the Companion Animal Health Centre (University of Adelaide, School of Animal & Veterinary Science) by Dr Wayne Boardman on Day 10 to assess fracture healing.  The images confirmed what was palpated on initial examination by Anita, and indicated a good result in fracture repair with a strong bony callous over the site.  Once again the joints were free but to some degree the strapping had caused stiffness overall in the wings joints. The bone was measured and had only suffered 1-2mm shortening which was acceptable.

Prognosis still quite hopeful but until she flies was guarded.


Facilities She has spent all but the first 2 days in a flight enclosure constructed of shadecloth and nylon netting 13m x 13m x 6m high.  She remained grounded until the strapping was removed and spent a further 7-10 days beginning to stretch and try and use the wing again.  Pain was shown on any movement initially but each day improvement was noted, flying short bursts across a few metres or so.


Progress On 12th June she flew and circled the aviary (4.5wks on).  She drooped the wing on occasion after flight indicating some pain and stiffness but after a further 2wks or so she began to fly fast and longer, showing no stiffness or pain.  Full extension of the wing is obtained, no droop is evident.  Surprisingly, Mark Holdsworth from Tasmania who leads avian recovery teams, upon finding her on the Strezlecki track noted only a slight sign of any injury, whereas significant droop is usually obvious with these fractures.


Excercise Each day exercise has been increased to regain fitness.  Her calm nature and having appropriate facilities has assisted this process.
Feather damage and repair


She began with the two broken tail feathers on arrival, and due to spending several weeks on the grassy substrate of the flight enclosure and having the weak area in the centre of the tail where the two were missing, she has broken a further 2 tail feathers.

Following fruitless calls to almost every wildlife park in Australia to obtain some donor feathers from captive buzzards, a very helpful Damien from the Territory Wildlife Park near Darwin offered to collect some tail feathers from roadkill.  He found 2 sets of Black Kite (Milvus migrans) and one set of Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) on the side of the road.  He was then obliged to apply for a permit to post them to SA according to state laws.  This took a further 3wks waiting on feathers, but finally a fancy glossy permit arrived and the feathers were posted.  One week later they were received by Anita in Adelaide.

The field ecologist was then in the field and unavailable to take Anita and buzzard to the release site near Moomba so another week passed by.  We are now waiting on available flights but expect to release her next week 13th August onwards.

Imping was carried out to her tail the evening before flight, she was then placed in the crate ready for the early morning trip to the airport.  This eliminated any chance of her breaking the new feathers before release.

Imping involves cutting the broken feathers back, modelling shafts made of carbon fibre rod or fibreglass rods.  They are glued into the centre of the bird’s feather medulla, then the donor feather is glued to the other half of the shaft.  This process is time consuming, stressful for the bird but very successful and will last her until she moults out for new feathers.  Special attention is given to match the feathering, size and shape of the feathers.  As there were no buzzard feathers available the black kite has been the most suitable and will be used.  This will give her the braking ability and manoeuvrability she needs to catch her prey and get herself out of trouble.  Without this process she has a large gap in the centre of her tail and would find it difficult to control turns, braking for landing and flight in general.   Carbon Fibre rods used and very effective.  2 buzzard and 3 black kite female feathers.  Kite feathers were a bit small in the shaft as had to cut their length quite a bit but worked fine.


Food whilst in care Rabbit, pigeon and other birds, rats, etc.  Birds were preferred to all other prey.  She took great delight in completely stripping and picking clean skulls which I have not seen done to this degree with other raptors.


Adelaide Hills winter Another reason for the delay in her regaining flight was due to having such a cold winter, and the bird coming from a different climate.  She suffered in the rain and cold and a small ‘tent/shelter’ was erected inside the enclosure. She immediately began to use it but it took several weeks of acclimatising for her to begin to ignore the cold a little.  It caused added stiffness in the joints also.
Release 14/8/12 at approx 11am on the original Strzelecki track only a few kms from where found and close to elongated watercourse.  Thousands of black kites and hundreds of whistling kites in the area seen while travelling to site.  Many other birds and lizards present as last 2 years of rain and QLD floods have filled the cooper’s basin.  The cooper’s creek flowing only just under the Innamincka causeway.  Half the roads in the Innamincka area still closed off when I was there.

She flew well (see video) and soared towards the watercourse.  She travelled perfectly with only a slight edge curve on end tail feather but no damage to speak of during transport.  Total of 12 hrs in crate including overnight in car ready for early morning transport.  Also endured freight depot handling so very pleased.




Species:  Australian Kestrel (Falco cenchroides)

Sex:                  Male

Age:                 Immature

Weight:           150g

Body Cond:      Excellent

Reason:           Hit by moving vehicle


Symptoms       Fractured humerus – midway along the bone, wing drooping badly

Xray                 Showed that it required pinning, strapping alone wouldn’t be adequate

Prognosis         Poor

As the bird had at least 6mths hunting experience, Dr Tony Atyeo (veterinarian) and I decided to give him a go.  He was also in good body condition and very alert.

Surgery            Gas anaesthesia, pin secured in humerus, surgery went well.

4wks confinement to hospital enclosure followed

Flight Enclosure          After a small amount of exercise he would drop to the ground and hold the wing extended, demonstrating a typical pain response.  As he would not progress past this point, the pin was removed once again under gas anaesthetic.

Exercise           The program begins, although this time without the pain response.  Another 4wks later and he was flying for some time without showing respiratory distress or any difficulty with the wing.

No abnormality was noted in the affected wing.

Release           He was banded and released, flying very strong and demonstrating good manoeuvrability while shrugging off some mild harassment by the local pair of Kestrels.