PBS to feature Indian Trail group that helped swan get prosthetic beak

Sitara the swan is one lucky duck.

The male mute swan is being cared for by Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, an Indian Trail nonprofit, and had surgery in Durham during the fall to install a prosthetic beak. Sitara’s story will be featured on the April 9 episode of “My Bionic Pet,” part of the PBS Nature series

The Union County center provides rescue and rehabilitation for sick, injured and orphaned birds. Director and founder Jennifer Gordon, who had spent Wednesday night at the center to care for the animals during the snowstorm, described in an email interview how Sitara got his groove back.

Sitara had lost most of his top beak, probably after being bitten by a snapping turtle. Birds struggle to eat and clean themselves without a whole beak, Gordon said, and also are unlikely to get selected as a mate.

PBS contacted the center after learning it already had a crow with a prosthetic beak. The “Bionic Pet” show was also featuring prosthetics for a pony and a dog.

In late October, a PBS crew went to the Indian Trail center to film some volunteers working with Sitara. They also filmed his surgery, which was handled by Dr. Greg Burkett, who put in place a handmade prosthetic – a metal frame covered with dental acrylic.

Prosthetics are rarely used on waterfowl, Gordon said, and she is not aware of any other mute swan that has had the procedure. Mute swans, by the way, can still vocalize, just not as loudly as other swans.

Sitara seemed a bit upset after the surgery, but within a week returned to preening, eating with ease and cleaning his feathers.

Gordon hopes the publicity from the TV show will help the center attract more donations or volunteers.

It has eight other birds in need of prosthetic beaks but cannot afford the procedures, which typically cost $500 to $800 each. And after last week’s storm, Gordon was dealing with two aviaries that had collapsed under snow and ice. A lot of repairs and clean-up work are needed, and she had sought help from the community for clean-up of the site on Saturday.

The facility has about 30 to 50 volunteers. It cares for 300 to 500 birds during the winter and as many as 800 during the spring and summer.

The PBS show will mark the second time the center will appear on national TV this year. In early February, the Nat Geo Wild channel featured the center as it helped relocate and release 100 rehabilitated ducks, geese and swans.

As for Sitara, Gordon reports that the surgery also appears to have helped his self-esteem.

“After several weeks, he felt confident enough about himself to take a mate,” she said. “That was something he was not willing to do in the past due to his looks and lack of self-confidence.”