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CuraCore Academy Talks
Birds are Not Small Cats (Dr. Narda Robinson)
December 2021

Hi, I’m Dr. Narda Robinson, and for this brief CuraCore Academy Talk, we’re going to discuss some ways in which birds are not small cats, and specifically, we’re going to cover the anatomy of avian acupuncture.

So when we transpose points from the mammal to the bird, there are certain things we want to make sure that we retain. Safety, so that means that we need the knowledge of avian anatomy, physiology, pathology, and everything else that we’re responsible for knowing as veterinarians, as well as ensure the effectiveness of what we’re doing. And so, are the points that we’re choosing anatomically relevant? Do they have structures that are physiologically meaningful as we activate them in a safe and effective manner?

So how should we adapt our techniques? So through this talk, I’m just going to cover some big avian points and talk a little bit about how their placement kind of differs from that which we expect to find in a mammal.

So just to start off, the musculoskeletal system in birds has a lot of different variations. For one, here you see a hyper-long neck, and that’s for some of the food-seeking behavior and piercing with the beak, or otherwise catching the prey. And so the number of vertebrae along the spine can vary. And also for, as you might call, food production birds, there can be changes that have been instituted, however these animals were cultivated, bred, whatever, to produce really large pectoral muscles, and that’s what people like to eat. I’m a vegan, so I can say that, but that causes problems if that bird has a long life and is not killed at a young age for food, but is actually saved and put in a rescue framework. Then that large pectoral region causes a lot of problems, a lot of heavy body weight, and just not the original kind of balance between the front and the back. So the adaptations for flight include a reduction in the number of bones, as well as pneumatic bones, so there’s air in them, and we just want to be really careful with the whole bird, that we respect the structures that are there that should not be interfered with, for example, air sacs. That’s a big concern, if we’re using acupuncture needles, that we don’t want to puncture any air sacs. So you need to know where they are. But you can see here, for example, with this skeleton difference between a bird and mammal skeletons, the presence of a beak, no teeth, the orbit is quite large, the cranium is differently structured. There are a number of cervical vertebrae, usually more than a mammal would have. There’s an absence of lumbar vertebrae. That’s been fused with the sacrum, so it’s called a synsacrum, and just the limbs, the toes, the tail, and just the reduction in certain numbers of digits, and just how they’re structured so that they can fly. As I mentioned, animals for food, the large, large breast, but an animal intended for food probably wouldn’t have that long to live, but it does distort the weight-bearing in the long-term.

So here are points for the cat face, just like ours, Bladder 2, Yintang, Stomach 2, Large Intestine 20, and GV 26, and with the bird, there’s just going to be differences. They don’t have many muscles of facial expression, and even if it looks like they are having an expression, that can be because of other reasons, like bone above the orbit or in front of it. So you see here that some people say, oh, raptors look so fierce, or eagles look fierce, because they’re furrowing their brow like this. Well, actually, that’s most likely due to these bones here that are just above the orbit, somewhat like when you go bike riding and if you have a helmet on, and a visor. So some explanations besides, oh, they just wanna look fierce, or that’s how they’ve been made, whatever, is that it helps shield their eyes from the sun, because visual acuity is such an important piece of their day-to-day living requirements. So we can place Triple Heater 23 on the upper-outer orbit region. So in us, it’s just at the lateral end of the eyebrow, at that dorsolateral aspect of the orbit. So we can transpose it and put it about there, and why would we want to use Triple Heater 23 in a bird? Well, for one reason, they might have sinus problems, so that could be an example of an application there, where birds do have muscles, even though they don’t have much facial expression and their forehead don’t also have many muscles of facial expression, but they do have their facial muscles kind of concentrated with the muscles of mastication. So we can transpose Stomach 6 here, if there were problems in the chewing mechanism, with the beak, with jaw pain, different things that might affect that region.

Now there are also pathways that we don’t even really have a lot of history about knowing, and to our knowledge, that mammals don’t worry about, such as GPS-ing based on magnetoreceptors in your upper beak to sense different magnetic waves or magnetic fields that you may encounter. So this is part of how birds navigate, which has just fairly recently been discovered, in terms of the nerve supply by the trigeminal brain stem complex. So just fascinating, in that these are centered in the upper beak, and then go to the brain stem.

Other points that we might be interested in, and staying on the head now, GV 20, behind the comb in a chicken, but transposed here on the eagle skull, on the left, or this bird here, on the right, and again, used for sinusitis, but also a lot of parasympathomimetic requirements, even considering, maybe, egg-binding for general overall autonomic tone balance, certain other types of stress, or digestive ailments, just a nice kind of general point, but not to put it too caudal, because there are air sacs coming up the back of the head.

An interesting avian adaption is the alula, which is the avian thumb, and you can see here this bird is kind of stopping from flight and landing, and the alula is extended. And so what important point do we have in that region? Well, that’s Large Intestine 4, very important point, and so easy to find in a bird and can be used for various musculoskeletal ailments of the wings, certain head and neck disorders, just as a distal point, and so on, sinusitis, things like that. And here it is on our eagle skeleton at our CuraCore Academy school. We have a reproduction there, so that’s where these pictures have come from.

So then we have Avian Guduan. Avian Guduan is a hip-related point, and you won’t always be able to locate the hip in all species. Sometimes they are more heavily bodied here, and that would be something possibly more for massage or photomedicine, because if you are in a general region that doesn’t have good definition, that’s going to be tricky for you to insert a needle there, and I wouldn’t advise it.

Then we can come up the back, and you can see how, on this eagle’s skeleton, that here we’re putting Bladder 15, because there’s one, two, three, four, five ribs. And so I just located it as the last thoracic vertebra that could have a point there next to it before this all becomes the synsacrum. So you can see here the vast difference in a thoracic spine and ribs versus a mammalian. But this could be used for locomotor problems. You might use it for egg-binding or things where we want to influence the neurophysiology of the more caudal body region.

Now here we have a barn owl who is using the talons, getting ready to land, but if you were getting some prey, I mean using your legs and your digits and those talons, being able to grab, and then let go, that’s all very important. And so when I’ve done raptor rehab, problems with toes either staying clenched or being too open and not being able to move were some of the main problems that I treated. So we’re going to be looking at points such as Stomach 36 here, and this is transposed onto the eagle skeleton, right beside the cnemial crest, C-N-E-M-I-A-L, instead of the tibial crest, but in about the same region and still affecting the cranial tibialis muscle. And then we also have our Bafeng points, but there’s only these digits here, but we can still go between them, to get those nerves that are coming and going, and as well as talking to the tendons to some degree about improving foot mechanics and digits.

So that’s just a brief run-through of some of the top ten avian acupuncture points that we have listed in our document that you can download from our website, and that’s, with dashes between each of these words, top ten, number ten, avian acupuncture points download. And if you want to learn more about our programs, our new Exotic Animal Acupuncture course or our Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians, basic course, our no-travel options, our Integrative Rehab and Physical Medicine programs, Botanical, Cannabis, and more, just go to our website, We look forward to seeing you.