A video of Violet in Washington Square Park shot on Saturday by Lincoln Karim, the wildlife photographer and Pale Male chronicler, shows Violet’s right leg dangling uselessly below the metal wildlife band on her shin, the foot gray and scaly from lack of blood flow. There also appears to be a broken bone protruding above the band.
This does not bode well.
After watching the footage, Dr. Elizabeth Bunting, a veterinarian specializing in wildlife at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine who has observed Violet for several months, was not hopeful about the prospects for Violet’s leg — or her survival.
“Most people would say she can’t hang in there with one foot,” Dr. Bunting said. Some birds, like songbirds, are able to, she said. “But the bigger the bird, the less likely they are to compensate for the injury, especially raptors, who are dependent on their feet to eat.”
Without a hands-on medical assessment of her nerve function, the severity of the fracture and the circulation to her toes, it is hard to determine the prognosis for the leg, she said.
Mr. Karim first photographed Violet’s abnormal leg, with the wildlife band appearing to restrict circulation, in October 2010. He urged wildlife officials to have the band removed, but capturing her was deemed too difficult. [NOTE FROM MW-- PLEASE SEE THIS CORRESPONDENCE AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE TO GET A FULL PICTURE]
She was seen hobbling around the nest in May shortly after her hatchling, Pip, emerged, with her right leg tangled in what appeared to be fishing line and swollen to about three times its normal size. The metal wildlife band wedged on her shin appeared to be making the situation worse.
A panel of experts and officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Protection, including Dr. Bunting, were called in to assess Violet from close range. But they ultimately decided not to intervene, and left the nest, where Violet was feeding a week-old baby, alone.
Even as some called for the band to be removed, wildlife officials said it was not clear that the band, placed on Violet’s leg in 2006, was the cause of her injury at the time.
The department stuck by its decision on Monday. “Based on direct observations of her condition at that time, the consensus opinion, particularly given the need for Violet to continue to care for her young, was to avoid additional harm that could be caused by an attempted capture,” Michael Bopp, a spokesman for the D.E.C., said in an e-mail.
Dr. Bunting said it was possible that a subsequent trauma — like a run-in with a car or another animal — had hastened the worsening of the foot.
Now the question, once again, is whether or not to intervene.
Even if Violet is successfully trapped, which could take days, she would possibly face surgery and a long road to recovery. If the leg is not viable, Violet would be euthanized (amputating the leg and keeping her in captivity is not seen as a humane option).
“This is a philosophical question,” said Dr. Bunting. “Is it more humane to capture the animal and euthanize it if you can’t fix the leg; or leave her alone in the wild with the possibility she might die from starvation or infection, which is the fate of many wild animals?”
Even if Violet is able to survive the winter, it is unclear whether she would be fit for motherhood with her handicap.
“There is a high probability that Violet could not stand and support copulation with Bobby,” the Ohio raptor expert John Blakeman wrote in an e-mail after viewing the video, referring to Violet’s mate. “It may be impossible to form viable eggs this year.” And if an egg were to hatch, Mr. Blakeman wrote, Violet would have tremendous difficulty feeding her young.
“As morbid as it might be,” he wrote, “the very best happenstance would be for Violet’s prompt natural demise, that any infection in the useless leg would become systemic, with consequent septic death.”
Although Violet is capable of feeding and otherwise appears to be in good health, she has to put on a brave face to avoid becoming prey herself, Dr. Bunting said.
“They are incredibly tough customers,” said Dr. Bunting who said she was constantly surprised by the resilience of these creatures.
For now, Violet is hanging in there. But we don’t know for how long.
PS from MWS from MWP: firstname.lastname@example.orgSubject: Re: Red Tail Hawk with bad band.
On October 29, 2010, the PaleMale.com photographer first sent a photo of Violet's banded leg to the Bird Banding Lab in Patuxent, Maryland, to demonstrate that bird banding can have adverse results. He received the following response: