As we have discussed before, imping (replacing the damaged section of a raptors feather by grafting in an exact donor replacement) is an incredibly valuable tool when carried out by an experienced vet/carer. To see a good example you can check out our Brahminy Kite post for April 2016 (click here). Sadly, however, it is often perceived as quite a simple technique, something that can be taught even to an inexperienced carer, with the potential of catastrophic results, in this case that would have led to the death of the bird involved.
This gentle Pacific Baza came in with feather damage as a result of motor vehicle trauma.
Over 20 feathers were imped, the bird underwent an extensive anaesthetic, and the carer was advised to just take the Baza straight away and release her back where she was found.
In this case the carer is highly experienced and the bird made her way to the Peter Spitzer free flight aviary to see if there was a way we could rectify the damage created.
The Baza was unwell, lethargic and unwilling to eat as well as suffering from severe dehydration as a result of her extensive anaesthetic.
Before imping became more standard in Australia, and practices that had been in place for hundreds of years overseas became more routine, often feather damaged raptors were left until a normal moult took place. This meant they stayed in care potentially for 2 or more years, simply waiting for new feathers. Another common practice was to pull the feather out, a painful practice with high potential to cause permanent damage to the feather shaft supports and growth areas below the skin.
As you can see from her initial images she had multiple displaced feathers protruding from wrong angles, and in the wrong places. The imping pins used were a material that allowed no feather flex at all, were heavy and too long, feather shafts had been split and masking tape and glue were still stuck to her little body. It was decided to let her rest up for a few days and to see how she went initially. Within two days of the procedure she started to drop feathers – her body knew instinctively they were wrong and began to rapidly drop them. This was incredibly unnatural, and must have put enormous strain on her. The amount of protein/energy required for even a normal moult is enormous.
Over the next two months she continued to drop all the imped feathers, even the few that had been replaced successfully, presumably the weight , type and length of the imping rod were just not compatible with her body.
Great care had to be taken with her diet, to which Vetafarm Moulting Aid was added, her newly growing feathers, especially with so many new blood quills, and all attempts were made to keep her as comfortable and “happy” as possible.
After four months she now looks like a proper Baza again – and is preparing for release.
The intention of sharing this story is as always, not to be critical but to show that even with the very best of intentions things can go wrong, and as we said previously it is absolutely essential that this procedure is not carried out by an inexperienced person, or taken or taught lightly. It is also so important to say if you make a mistake, as we all do, and not to just send a doomed bird out to a slow death, as would have been our Baza’s fate.
Let’s hope we can generate funding to satellite track her, and we will see if she is indeed now able to survive and thrive with a far superior chance when released.