Falconry is a noble pursuit that allows people to bond with raptors and contribute to the protection of birds of prey. Along with general up keep of the birds, it’s useful for a falconer to know how to repair broken feathers. The process is called imping, which involves the implanting of broken feathers with new ones. This helps wildlife rehabilitators to heal injured birds quickly and reintroduce them back into the wild.
The new donor feathers are attached via small splints inserted into the hollow shaft of a bird’s main flight feathers. Flight is restored immediately and the process is helpful in preventing broken blood feathers during the moulting period. A blood feather is a new feather that is growing from a follicle in a bird’s skin. The imped feathers will moult and eventually be replaced by normal feathers.
It’s preferable to use donor feathers from the same bird species, but there are exceptions. At the Teton Raptor Centre in Wyoming, an injured Swainson Hawk received imped feathers from an Osprey and made a full recovery. Rehabilitation coordinator, Meghan Warren said there’s no chance of donor feathers being rejected as it’s different to an organ transplant. “It’s more like hair extensions or fake fingernails.”
Imping is an invaluable process in the restoration of bird flight, but it is not recommended for novices. Always consult a senior falconer or avian specialist before attempting it yourself.