Written in Ink

How to build an owl: bamboo, glue, feathers from another owl

What's that? You want to build an owl? Awwww yissss, let's do this.


This is the snowy owl that got hit by a bus in DC this winter.

So the owl is now in rehab at the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where, using a procedure called "imping"—an old falconers' term that's short for "implanting"—an avian expert has replaced the useless feathers with leftover ones taken from other birds. (Except for some damage to the upper beak, any injuries from the bus collision, including a broken toe, had healed before the bird arrived at the center.)

"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. I picked feathers from a male the same age as this bird and they fit perfectly."

She then whittled small sticks of bamboo so that one end poked into the shaft of the new feather and the other into the shaft still attached to the bird (where the burned feathers had been carefully pulled out).

With a little drop of quick-drying epoxy, she cemented each new feather into place. "If attached right, the new feathers are just as effective as the old ones" in letting a bird do all of its aerial maneuvers, she said. (See National Geographic's pictures of birds of prey.)

Eventually, the owl will lose the borrowed feathers—in a process called molting—and grow its own new ones.

How freaking cool is that? I got to watch a falconer do some imping when I was 13 at a bird of prey sanctuary outside of London. It was a neat place, and I still want to go back and live there. Mostly because watching an eagle owl swallow a thawed chick whole is nifty.

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