The Fine Art of Imping An Owl

Imping donor feathers to injured birds is a real art. The practice involves joining a donor feather to the shaft of a broken feather with wooden dowels and glue. When the bird moults, the donor feathers fall out. The donor feathers have to be the right size, and the dowels shaved to fit precisely inside the feather shaft of the recipient and donor feathers. The difference in weight between males and females means the feathers will be different, so it’s also important to know the sex of both the recipient bird and the feather donor. 

A Barn owl having donor feathers attached to its actual feather shafts.
A Barn owl having donor feathers attached to its actual feathers at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital

“This Barn owl has been in care for some time after being hit by a car,” said WIRES Carer and Raptor Expert Melanie Barsony. (Sadly, being hit by a car is the most common reason wildlife patients are presented to Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital).

“The damaged feathers appear to have been caused by being trapped somewhere, perhaps in a chicken pen.  Working from Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital and helped by their wonderful vet team, I imped a total of six flight feathers to this owl. A few of the imped feathers have moulted and almost regrown, so it’s an effective method of treating injured birds of prey.” said Mel.

Mel learned the skills of imping during an internship at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.  Thanks to the collaborative treatment and care of Mel Associate Veterinarian Dr Chantal Whitten and Senior Vet Nurse Louise Napoli, the imped owl is now recovering in a larger aviary with WIRES Clarence Valley to build up flight strength before release. 

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