5 min read

Woman Builds Eagle A New Wing So She Can Fly Again

"No mistakes can be made ... the length and angle of the repaired feathers must be perfect."

A white-bellied sea eagle might have never flown again if it weren't for some kind people and one woman with a very particular kind of skill.

Eagles injured feathers
Danny Lett/ARCC

A Good Samaritan in Australia spotted the young eagle recently and it was clear she was in trouble. She had become separated from her family and gotten tangled up in twine on a fence. Rescuers disentangled her and rushed the bird to a veterinary clinic for care. 

The people at the Grafton Vet Clinic examined the eagle and discovered that four of her primary feathers were very badly damaged, even though there were luckily no broken bones or other injuries.

People helping eagle with mangled wing
A.Barsony/ARCC

Without those primary feathers, though, this bird wouldn't be able to fly with the kind of precision she needs in order to hunt and survive. So a specialist who knew just how to rebuild her wing was brought in from Casino Vet Clinic.

"Feather repair using the imping technique was the best option to get this young bird back out with her family," Australian Raptor Care and Conservation Inc (ARCC) wrote on Facebook last week. "After a suitable donor wing from the same species and aged bird was sourced, the imping was carried out by raptor rehabber Melanie." 

Eagle getting wing repaired
A. Barsony/ARCC

"Imping," short for implantation, takes feathers from a donor bird and implants them into injured wings to give struggling birds, like this eagle, new life. Eventually the feathers molt normally as if they are the bird's own.

Feathers
ARCC

"The repair is done by joining a new feather to the broken one; however it must be the exact corresponding feather from a bird of the same species and maturity," ARCC told The Dodo in a statement. "Sadly, not all rescued raptors survive their injuries, but their wings and tails can be kept in a feather bank and used as feather donors to help other birds of prey."

Imping
ARCC
Imping
ARCC

"Imping truly is a precision art and no mistakes can be made," ARCC wrote. "The length and angle of the repaired feathers must be perfect as they will impact directly on aerodynamics, maneuverability and hunting success of the bird."

Imping supplies
ARCC
Feather being glued into place in eagle's wing
A. Barsony/ARCC

Using a piece of bamboo and glue, rescuers secured the new feather in place in the eagle's wing. "Often the donor feather has a different shaft diameter to the feather being repaired, so adjustments need to be made," ARCC said. "The bond must be secure to last until the feather is naturally moulted and a new feather grows in its place."

Luckily, the eagle's new feathers were perfectly implanted. 

Eagle getting wing fixed by imping
ARCC
Rescued eagle after wing surgery
M. Barsony/ARCC

"After a few more days in care, to ensure there were no problems with the repaired wing, she was released back where she was found," ARCC wrote. "After 10 minutes one of the parent birds appeared to check on the young one. The best outcome for this majestic sea eagle!"

Eagle released after imping
ARCC
Eagle released after rescue
ARCC
To help save more birds in need, you can make a donation to ARCC.