Max the Macaw is Back in Business with 3D Printed Titanium Beak

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Birds use their beaks for a number of reasons, from grooming and eating to climbing and fighting. Max, a handsome 20-year-old macaw now living in the Hyacinth Haven Bird Sanctuary in Plettenburg Bay, South Africa, got into a fight with another macaw shortly after he arrived, and his beak was badly damaged in the scuffle. Unfortunately, his troubles didn’t end there, but now, thanks to the wonders of technology, Max is sporting a new 3D printed prosthetic beak, made of titanium and fairly similar to the beak Gigi the macaw received in 2016.

Max came to the bird sanctuary, owned by British bird lover Trevor Glover, in 2017, when his original owner moved abroad. As the new bird on the block, he attacked another macaw at the sanctuary, and in the fight, his beak was severely damaged.

Max was left with no beak after two fights with other birds.

“He was aggressive towards the rescued birds and, during hormone season at the end of 2017, he attacked a macaw that retaliated by biting his top beak and cracking the left side from top to bottom,” Glover explained.

Max was then moved to a transition aviary at the sanctuary with another macaw nursing an injured beak. Everything was okay for about three weeks, and then feathers flew again.

“…I put him in a separate aviary with another macaw who had a damaged beak but they got into a fight during the hormone season over a female and Max’s weakened beak was ripped off,” Glover said.

“He had to go onto soft food with no more seeds or nuts to eat and wasn’t too happy and was losing weight and I didn’t know how he would get on without being able to eat or protect himself.

“Then I saw a documentary about South African animals with prosthetic limbs like an elephant and a zebra and a baboon so I thought perhaps it may be possible to make him a new beak.”

The process of getting Max a new 3D printed beak was easier said than done, however, and was held up, like just about everything else in the world, by the COVID-19 pandemic. But eventually, the team helping Max was able to get back to business. Molds were made of the macaw’s stump, and this summer, Max tried out a nylon prototype prosthetic beak before the final titanium one was scheduled to be attached in late 2021.

The surgery—believed to be the first of its kind in South Africa—was finally conducted at Dr. Brendan Tindall’s Robberg Veterinary Clinic in Plettenberg Bay, in collaboration with Bloemfontein’s Central University of Technology and industry partners. Dr. Tindall, a wildlife vet, administered the anesthesia, and the whole operation was led by Professor Gerhard Steenkamp, a maxillofacial surgeon at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital (OVAH) at the University of Pretoria.

Max’s beak stump is drilled for fitting bolts.

Assisted by specialist prosthodontist Professor Cules van Heerden, Professor Steenkamp attached the functional 3D printed titanium prosthetic to the end of Max’s beak stump using special high strength screws in a successful surgery that lasted just over an hour.

Professor Steenkamp said, “Max is doing well, and no complications have been seen with the beak so far.

“I am happy to have been part of the team that has given Max a second chance in life and would like to thank our industry partners.”

The very next day, Glover reported that Max was eating solid food for the first time in two years with the 3D printed beak, which will definitely help him gain back some of his lost weight.

Glover said, “This is quite a change from eating only soft food for years.”

“It is amazing what can be achieved with 3D printing.”

Another activity Max enjoys with his titanium beak is bending the bars of his cage, which is apparently quite loud.

“When people hear the noise his titanium beak makes on the bars they are a little nervous of him,” Glover said.

“I wouldn’t want to get a peck from that beak!”

Max has returned home to the sanctuary, and now resides in a special aviary built just for him by his devoted owner.

“Max has been given a new lease of life and has gone back to relatively normal behaviour – eating, flying and climbing as he did before the injury,” Glover said. “My heartfelt thanks to all.”

Max the macaw shows off his new 3D printed titanium beak.

(Images courtesy of Hyacinth Haven Bird Sanctuary)

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