Meet Mia: The world’s first “bionic bird”

Mia is a female bearded vulture, the largest type of flying bird in Europe — but that’s not the most impressive thing about her. She is the first bird to receive a permanent prosthetic foot, and is described as the world’s first “bionic bird.”

Mia was brought into the Owl and Bird Prey Sanctuary in Haringsee, Austria because of a seriously injured foot that eventually had to be amputated. Smaller birds can manage with just one foot, but this isn’t the case for larger, heavier birds. Landing, walking, and hunting would be extremely difficult on one foot for a bird as hefty as a bearded vulture, so a team at the Medical University of Vienna decided to figure out how to give Mia a permanent prosthetic foot.

At the head of the team was Prof. Oskar Aszmann, who had already successfully attached mind-controlled bionic arms to three human amputees.

The team applied a process called osseointegration, where the base of the artificial foot was joined directly to the end of the leg bone where the foot was amputated. Mia started trying out her new bionic foot within three weeks of the surgery. The foot was able to support her full weight after a mere six weeks, and now she is walking and landing normally.

According to Aszmann, “This concept offers a high degree of embodiment, since osseoperception provides direct intuitive feedback, thereby allowing natural use of the extremity for walking and feeding.”

Additional resources: Scientific Reports—Avian extremity reconstruction via osseointegrated leg-prosthesis for intuitive embodiment

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