Joe, a one-winged hawk living its days at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, is getting a prosthetic device to replace its missing wing and help it keep its balance.
Joe will never be able to fly again, but the new platinum-cured silicone device will be crucial to protecting the wound, providing balance and counteracting body weight.
"When a bird loses a wing, that's a large percentage of its body weight," nature center director of wildlife Tish Gailmard said.
Joe was likely struck by a car as a juvenile in 2016, Gailmard said. A concerned citizen took the broad-winged hawk to Walden's Puddle, a wildlife rehabilitation and education center in Joelton, Tennessee — a suburb of Nashville. The center brought Joe to Reflection Riding in October 2016 where it will live for the remainder of its life.
The nonprofit nature center provides shelter for animals that can't be reintroduced into the wild; all are injured, part of species survival plans — like its red wolves — or can't be reintroduced because of other circumstances. It has a red fox, an American bald eagle, sandhill cranes and other animals.
"We try to give them the most interesting life possible in captivity and help with whatever injuries they may have," nature center President Mark McKnight said. "This hawk in particular is a great example as we try to give it better balance and as much comfort as we can."
Its animals are native to the region and are used to educate the public about the biodiversity that can be found largely in Chattanooga. The center has native plants and wild habitat on its 317-acre property for the creatures to feel at home.
The goal of the center is to see wild populations flourish, not be kept in captivity, McKnight said, which is why the center only cares for animals that wouldn't otherwise be able to live in the wild.
Joe's prosthetic is being built by Chattanooga-based orthotics and prosthetics manufacturer Fillauer LLC. The more-than-100-year-old company mainly makes prosthetics for people and manufactures the materials, but it has helped the nature center provide prosthetics upon request.
"We really do enjoy these unique opportunities to work on projects like this," lead process developer Steven Edwards said. "Working with the nature center is always a pleasure. It's outside of the realm of what we normally do and makes for some interesting work."
Edwards developed Joe's prosthetic and built one for a American Kestrel falcon at the nature center, which has since died, several years ago.
The work provides unique challenges for developers.
"It's harder to communicate," he said. "We can't get feedback like we get with people. We can't ask them how they feel; we just have to see how they react to what it is we're doing."
Joe's prosthetic is similar in design to the hawk's but is made out of a different material to help get it on and off easier while providing a more secure fit. The bird had the prosthetic for a couple of weeks but eventually figured out how to take it off.
The bird has long struggled without the wing. It eventually learned to hop and spin while jumping from limb to limb to keep its balance but stopped once the prosthetic was attached. Joe was also able to get on and off of a trainer's glove without assistance when wearing the new wing — something the bird was previously unable to accomplish.