Monday, January 31, 2022

Feather Extensions

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife, Medicine, Health

Ed Hessler

Val Cunningham (Star Tribune 12.1.2021) reported on a great horned owl who while flying over a school athletic field was caught by a soccer net. He was taken to the University of Minnesota Raptor Center where "cage rest and treatment healed his soft tissue and eye injuries." However, his tail feathers were mangled and some were even broken." These are important feathers and used for braking and steering.

Obviously, he couldn't be released without them but their replacement through molting would take about a year. A procedure known as "imping" in which "damaged feathers are pulled out and replaced from another (almost invarabley) deceased bird" of the same species and from the same location on the bird can be safely and effectively used.

The tools are simple but the procedure requires some well-honed skills. The tools are "bamboo skewers, nail trimmer, ruler and quick-fixing epoxy glue." Cunningham describes the procedure - imping - which Victoria Hall, the executive director of the Raptor Center called "feather extensions."

In about 20 minutes, twelve "torn and bent tail feathers" were "replaced and about a week later the great horned owl "was released near where he was found, to rejoin his territory and possibly even a mate."

I was surprised to learn that "the Raptor center performs about 100 feather implants a year" with most in spring or fall. Jamie Clarke, a vet tech at the center, and said he "imped 16 birds in September, including great horned and barred owls, broad-winged hawks, merlins, a peregrine falcon, Cooper's hawks, a kestrel and a red-tailed hawk." Most had suffered a variety of traumatic injuries--collisons with cars, flying into window glass, fighting.

Here is a YouTube video (11m 45s) showing how it is done.

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