Two Tail Tale

MRCC released Coopers Hawk COHA 139-14 on 3/11/15. But, this was not your typical rescue and rehabilitation.

MRCC initially received the bird on 9/20/14 from Bozeman. It had collided with something and had a spinal/neurological trauma. During its rehab, it developed the habit of sitting in its water dish – a lot. This behavior weakened its feathers to the point they eventually broke. So, how do you release a bird with broken tail feathers?

Well, what you do is “Imping.” Donor feathers are taken from the same species of bird, and preferably the same sex (feather size and color). They are taped together in order, that is, how they would be found on the bird. They are stored in a freezer to prevent damage from bugs and to preserve them.

Once it is determined a bird needs to be imped, we first identify which feathers need to be replaced. We review the feathers we have in inventory in the freezer, and select the best matches. We then cut the live bird’s feathers about an inch from the skin, where the feather shaft is wide, and then cut the donor feather in roughly the same spot (width of shaft).

Our next step is to find a bridging material. We usually whittle down wooden dowels: on one side to the size of the live bird’s feather shafts, and the other side, to the donor feathers shafts. Once we have a good fit on both feathers, we verify the dowel fits properly in both shafts, then use basic super glue to bind then into one “reconstructed” feather. Once the glue is dry, we are done.

The bird will molt the the feathers, usually within one year depending on which feathers have been imped: tail feathers (one year), primary feathers (one year),  and secondary feathers (one or two years).

When we released the bird (on 3/11/15 in Bozeman), its new tail functioned perfectly. The bird flew strong and true – back to the life it deserved.