Mia, the first “bionic” bird with an artificial foot

Some birds have already used “artificial legs” held together with straps. A team from the University of Vienna today reports the first successful integration of a prosthetic foot directly into the remaining leg bone of a bird of prey.

In large birds, loss of limbs impairs the ability to land, walk, or hold prey, ultimately leading to malnutrition and death. Until now he was impossible to rely on conventional prosthetic stems in these avian limbs, given the extreme loads that these birds have to endure.

As part of recent work, a team from the Haringsee Rehabilitation Center for Owls and Birds of Prey (Lower Austria) eventually turned to the team of Oskar Aszmann, from the University of Vienna and a specialist in the field, to help Mia.

A first avian osseointegration

Mia is a female bearded vulture, a species of vulture that lives in Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe and can reach a wingspan of 2.6 m. The bird had strangled one of its legs from sheep’s wool often used for nest construction, to the point that it had to be amputated at the tarso metatarsal. On one leg, it was clear that Mia would not survive long.

bird mia bionic prosthesis
A: The intact left limb compared to the amputated right limb. B: Chronic ulceration from heavy loads during daily activities. Credits: Scientific Reports

Together, the researchers therefore devised and developed a special bone implant that can be attached to the stump (osseointegration). Here, the external parts of the prosthesis are thus directly connected to a bone anchor to ensure a firm fixation of the skeleton. The team of dr. Aszmann had recently used this technique for the first time on a patient who had lost an arm.

« This concept offers a high degree of realisation, as osteoperception will provide direct intuitive feedback, allowing natural use of the limbs when walking and eating.‘, the researcher writes in Scientific Reports.

bird mia bionic prosthesis
X-rays of Mia’s leg with her prosthetic foot. Credits: Medical University of Vienna

The first “bionic” bird

As you can see above, the surgery on Mia successfully conducted at the Center for Biomechanical Research, MedUni, Vienna, in collaboration with Rickard Branemark, Center for Osseointegration Research, San Francisco. The rehabilitation process and prosthetic treatment then took place at the sanctuary in Haringsee.

« The bird made its first attempts to walk after just three weeks and the prosthesis was fully charged after six weeks‘, the researchers write. ” Today, the bearded vulture can land and walk on both feet again, making it the world’s first ‘bionic bird’« .