UK Vets Save Bird Who Swallowed Tweezers


Story at-a-glance -

  • After a rescued jackdaw swallowed a pair of tweezers, wildlife veterinarians performed an intricate surgery that saved his life
  • Jackdaws are one of the only non-human animals known to follow visual communication cues — something even dogs and chimpanzees have trouble with
  • Wild jackdaws are able to recognize individual human faces and also detect if a predator is looking at them

By Dr. Becker

I like to share uplifting stories of hope, and the case of a young jackdaw who swallowed tweezers – and survived – certainly applies. You may first be wondering, what’s a jackdaw? It’s a bird that’s a member of the crow family, the smallest member at that, related to ravens and jays.

The bird was a rescue at the animal charity RSPCA Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre in Nantwich, Cheshire​, U.K., when he accidentally swallowed a pair of tweezers.1

This in itself is remarkable, considering the small size of the bird. “When I saw the X-rays and the size of the tweezers he had swallowed, I thought there was absolutely no chance this poor jackdaw could survive,” wildlife vet Dr. Bev Panto at RSPCA said in a news release.2

“The tweezers stretched the whole length of his digestive system — right from his crop to his intestines and the sharp ends were piercing through his skin,” she said.3

Intricate Surgery Saves Young Jackdaw

The jackdaw was in the right place, as the veterinarians were able to perform an intricate surgery and remove the tweezers. What’s more, after an hour in recovery, the bird was nearly back to his old self. Panto explained:4

“He is hands down the most incredible case and recovery I have seen during my six years as a wildlife vet. How such a small bird can survive such a traumatic incident, and then undergo major surgery and appear fighting fit the next day, is quite incredible …

I have never seen a case where a bird has swallowed a pair of tweezers before but we think it is possible this bird was being hand fed and then tried to eat more than just the food.”

Jackdaws Can Follow a Human’s Gaze to See What You’re Looking At

Jackdaws are extremely intelligent birds, and their eyes, with dark pupils and white irises, resemble humans’. Further, research shows that the birds are one of the only non-human animals known to follow visual communication cues — something even dogs and chimpanzees have trouble with.5

In the study, jackdaws retrieved food based on a person gazing at it, taking longer to retrieve the food if the person was unfamiliar to them. In another test, the birds even found food hidden from view based solely on a human’s eye motions.6

The birds, which live primarily in Europe, western Asia and North Africa, are known to use tools, and nest in groups in cavities such as chimneys or holes in tree trunks. They build nests out of sticks lined with hair or wool.7

In North America, it’s unusual to see these gray-headed birds, although a small number have appeared since the mid-1980s in several U.S. states and Canadian provinces. According to the Audubon, it’s believed they may have crossed the Atlantic by riding on ships for all or part of their journey.8

Jackdaws Are Sociable Birds and Recognize Human Faces

Jackdaws breed, roost and feed in colonies, which hints at their sociable nature. They’re also known for pairing off with a mate, who they may stay loyal to even if breeding is unsuccessful. According to Discover Wildlife:9

“Jackdaws form strong pair bonds with their mates and are renowned for their devotion towards their partner.

Even if they suffer from a few years of unsuccessful breeding, they still stay together, potentially due to the fact that they have invested so much time and energy into trying to raise young together.”

Also intriguing, research published in Animal Behavior revealed that wild jackdaws are able to recognize individual human faces and, along the lines of the Current Biology research, also detect if a predator is looking at them.10

They also responded defensively based on the human’s identity, moving more quickly to guard chicks if a person who had previously accessed their nest box walked by.11 Crows, magpies and mocking birds have also been found to recognize individual human faces.

Given their highly intelligent nature, the story of the young jackdaw’s close encounter with a pair of tweezers takes on a new light, doesn’t it? And perhaps his strength and fighting spirit aren’t so surprising after all.