Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

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Audubon

Jan/Feb '08

Body Makeover

Last spring a female great horned owl was brought to the Lakeside Nature Center in Kansas City after it was found near a chemical overflow pool in an industrial area. The owl had chemical burns on its chest and required surgery to remove damaged muscle from its breast. “She was recovering nicely, but some of her feathers became brittle and broke—probably due to the contact she had with the chemicals,” says Conrad Schmitt, the center’s director. So rehab specialists performed a procedure known as “imping”—essentially attaching new feathers and artificial shafts with Super Glue. The staff whittled bamboo shafts to attach to what was left of the twelve tail and the six feathers on each wing, then attached feathers from an owl that died. After the hour-long procedure it was time for the test. “We didn’t expect her to fly right away, but she acted just like they were her natural feathers,” says Ruth VanWye, an animal rehab specialist who assisted with the surgery. A week later the owl was released on the banks of the Missouri River, near where it was found, and soon after paired with a mate. The researchers believe that once molting season arrives, the owl will grow a new batch of natural feathers to replace the artificially attached ones.

—Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

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