By Alyssa Schlange, Volunteer and Outreach Manager
American Crow number 1476, came to us on May 13th of this year as an orphan with terrible feather quality, suggesting malnutrition due to abandonment. After three weeks of consistent care and steady weight gain the crow was still not able to fly. Dr. Duane Tom, Director of Animal Care, ascertained that the crow would need the full set of wing primary feathers to be replaced, or imped, and possibly full tail primary feathers as well.
Imping is when we take feathers from a deceased patient with good feather quality and insert them into the feather shafts of the living patient under anesthesia. We remove the patient’s bad or broken feathers and glue the new feathers in, which improves the bird’s flight quality. It allows the birds to maintain muscle tone and flight ability while recovering, better preparing them for release when other injuries are healed. Imping is a life-saving but complex procedure, as the donor feather must match the recipient in age, size, and sex. The feathers are carefully inserted at particular angles so that it mimics the degrees of the original feathers that allow the birds to soar.
On June 5th Dr. Tom and his team of preceptors (fourth year veterinary students) imped the crow’s wings in a procedure that took over 2 hours. While 1476’s flight did improve, he was unable to fly directly to the highest perch so it was decided that we also needed to imp the tail feathers so that he could get more lift in his flight. On July 11th, we imped the remaining tail feathers.
After a few days in the enclosure he was okayed to be released. On July 14th, after being in care for 61 days, he re-entered the wild with 14 other juvenile orphaned crows.