Spinal Injuries in Birds

Key Points

  • Traumatic injuries are common in free-ranging avian species.
  • Clinical signs associated with spinal trauma are variable, largely due to the degree of spinal cord involvement but may include hind limb paraplegia or paraparesis, decreased pain perception, and the presence of upper motor neuron signs.
  • The unique nature of the avian spine renders plain radiography less sensitive in birds than in mammals, particularly for acute lesions.
  • Alternate imaging techniques such as computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging are much more sensitive diagnostic tests.
  • The mid or caudal thoracic spine, cranial to the synsacrum and caudal to the notarium, is particularly vulnerable to blunt impact trauma leading to vertebral fracture and spinal cord trauma. Focus imaging modalities on this region if neurologic assessment fails to offer clues regarding lesion localization.

Traumatic injury is the most common reason for admission of wild birds to rehabilitation centers. Spinal injuries in birds are particularly problematic, as they are incredibly difficult to diagnose, localize, and manage.

Unique anatomic features of the avian spine . . .

To continue you need to be a LafeberVet.com member. (Français), (Español)

Pour continuer, vous devez être un membre LafeberVet.com

Para continuar, debe ser miembro de LafeberVet.com

Already a LafeberVet Member?

Please Login


Bracken MB, Shepard MJ, Holford TR, et al. Administration of methylprednisolone for 24 or 48 hours or tirilazad mesylate for 48 hours in the treatment of acute spinal cord injury. Results of the Third National Acute Spinal Cord Injury Randomized Controlled Trial. National Acute Spinal Cord Injury Study. J Am Med Assoc 277(20):1597-1604, 1997.

Clippinger TL, Bennett RA, Platt SR. The avian neurologic examination and ancillary neurodiagnostic techniques: a review update. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Anim Pract 10(3);803–836, 2007.

Deem SL, Terrell SP, Forrester DJ. A retrospective study of morbidity and mortality of raptors in Florida: 1988-1994. J Zoo Wildl Med 29(2):160–164, 1998.

Harr, KE, Kollias GV, Rendano V, deLahunta A. A myelographic technique for avian species. Vet Radiol Ultrasound 38(3):187–192, 1997.

Harris MC, Sleeman JM. Morbidity and mortality of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) admitted to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, 1993–2003. J Zoo Wildl Med 38(1):62–66, 2007.

Komnenou AT, Georgopoulou I, Savvas I, Dessiris A. A retrospective study of presentation, treatment, and outcome of free-ranging raptors in Greece (1997–1000). J Zoo Wildl Med 36(2):222–228, 2005.

O’Malley B. Avian anatomy and physiology. In: O’Malley B (ed). Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species. Edinburgh, UK: Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 97–161.

Orosz SE, Bradshaw GA. Avian neuroanatomy revisited: from clinical principles to avian cognition. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Anim Pract 10(3):775–802, 2007.

Stauber E, Holmes S, Deghetto D, Finch N. Magnetic resonance imaging is superior to radiography in evaluating spinal cord trauma in three bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). J Avian Med Surg 21(3):196–200, 2007.

Wendell MD, Sleeman JM, Kratz G. Retrospective study of morbidity and mortality of raptors admitted to Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital during 1995 to 1998. J Wildl Dis 38(1):101–106, 2002.

Whittington J, Osterbur KA, O’Dell-Anderson K. Imaging modalities and limitations in diagnosing spinal fractures of birds. Proc Annual Conf National Wildlife Rehabilitation Assoc 2009.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Spinal injuries in birds. May 7, 2010. LafeberVet Web site. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/spinal-injuries-in-birds/