How an injured snowy owl got new feathers
After lightly burning its wings and getting hit by a bus, this snowy owl needed help if it was ever going to fly again. All it took was some feathers, bamboo and glue.
Sat, Apr 26, 2014 at 11:05 AM
Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post/Getty Images
A snowy owl that was hit by a bus in Washington, D.C., is now recovering after having 18 of its feathers replaced.
The Arctic-dwelling birds rarely make it as far south as the nation's capital, but this winter marked one of the largest migrations of snowy owls to the southeastern U.S. in decades.
This migration of snowy owls southward is called an irruption, and this winter's irruption has been linked to lemming populations, the bird's main prey.
The 2-year-old bird that was hit by the bus had also singed its feathers — likely as it took off from a chimney. Burned feathers don't function correctly, making it difficult for birds to fly.
Upon recovering from its bus injuries, the snowy owl was taken to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota where it was given new feathers through a procedure known as "imping," a falconers' term that's short for "implanting."
Imping involves replacing the injured feathers with ones taken from other birds.
The owl received 10 flight feathers — five per wing — and eight tail feathers that had been removed from previous snowy owl patients.
Avian physiologist Lori Arent selected the feathers from a male owl of roughly the same age.
"I have a whole freezer full of harvested feathers, of different types and sizes, and I wanted to choose the right ones for this animal," she told National Geographic.
After selecting the best feathers, the burned ones were carefully sheared off. Then Arent whittled bamboo so that one end would fit into the shaft of the new feather and the other into the shaft attached to the bird.
Arent then slid the new feathers in place and attached them with a drop of fast-drying epoxy.
She says the new feathers will work just as well as the owl's original ones, but eventually they'll fall out and the owl will grow new ones.
After recovering and getting daily exercise at the raptor center, the snowy owl was deemed fit for flying and released into the wild on April 19.
Watch the delicate process of attaching new owl feathers in the video below.
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