Learning: It’s for the Birds

Karly B.As a second-year veterinary student, it is sometimes very easy to forget that there are things outside of charts, notes, and endless PowerPoint slides. But, recently, I was reminded of the other learning opportunities we have here at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. One of those many fun and inspiring aspects of our professional program is the chance to head over the Avian Health Complex, where a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of practicing handling pigeons and tortoises.

I was elated to go to that rotation because I love exotic animals. After being debriefed on the safe and proper manner of handling birds, we got started. We gloved up to protect both the bird and ourselves, as we both can transmit diseases to each other. I then had to catch my pigeon! I caught mine pretty quickly; she was a lot less rambunctious than some of the others. My partner and I both took turns doing a complete physical exam on her, checking her eyes, ears, wings, musculature, and many other body parts. We identified in a report that she was healthy and then we moved on to weighing her. Lastly, we drew blood from her wing vein so that the flock could be screened and given a clean bill of health. I loved handling the birds.

The tortoises were a bit trickier. You see, when a tortoise does not care to be picked up, it has a very effective method of defense—IT PEES ON YOU!! And this is not just a little trickle; these little guys can aim! Part of our task was to do a bunch of similar examination techniques on the Texas Tortoises, but there is a huge difference between a tortoise and a pigeon—a tortoise has a shell, of course! So how do you take a heart rate on a tortoise? Well, I am glad you asked. I found it quite fascinating. We used a Doppler. A Doppler is a type of ultrasound machine that you place in the crook between the tortoise’s head and forelimb. Through the machine, you can actually hear the pulse of the heart.

For me and my partner, we got through our physical exam with no incidents. Others were not so lucky and went home with a little bit of tortoise urine to commemorate the event.

Nobody really minded.

It’s all in a day’s work.