Experts with the Medical University of Vienna have announced the first ‘bionic bird.’ Building on work previously only see on humans, the team implanted a permanent bionic limb in a bearded vulture, restoring its ability to walk and fly via a prosthetic foot. The procedure involved osseointegration, which involves attaching the bionic limb directly to the skeleton.
Vultures and other large birds require their legs to survive; without them, the bird won’t be able to walk or fly, resulting in a slow death from lack of adequate food. Replacing a large bird’s leg is tricky, however, due to the loads applied to the prosthetics. This newly announced bionic limb was able to restore the bird’s ability to walk, however, in a “first” for the field.
The bearded vulture, which is named Mia, comes from the Owl and Bird of Prey Sanctuary located in lower Austria; the bird had suffered severe foot damage leading to amputation, removing its ability to survive in the wild. That’s where the researchers come in.
The team explained in a new announcement that a special bionic attachment was created that could be implanted in the vulture’s bone at the stump where the amputation had taken place. This was the first time an attempt had been made to use one of these prosthetic implants on a bird.
The prosthetic foot is attached to the bone implant, making it a permanent, flexible part of the limb. According to the researchers, the vulture was able to walk three weeks after surgery with the prosthesis holding the full load after six weeks. Fast-forward to today and the culture is able to fly, land on both of its feet, and walk like normal, making it a milestone success story.