Saturday, December 29, 2007

Just Keep Breathing, Just Keep Breathing...

..just keep breathing, breathing... That was the little tune that Penny, our head rehabber, would softly sing to the Merlin at various intervals throughout the morning's procedure of imping its wing. I know that was my one worry as well, all for naught as it turns out, as it came through the procedure like a trooper. But let's start at the beginning, shall we?

First, you need some wooden skewers, which you must cut into small pieces and then these pieces need to be shaved down small enough to fit into the hollow feather shaft.

Then, one needs to make sure you have all of the tools of the trade at hand.

Super glue? Check! Alcohol? Check! Scalpel? Check!

Then, you need to take a dead bird of similar species and cut off, as close to the quick as you can, the feathers which you have determined need replacing on the live bird.


It's crucial that these remain in the correct order, so we taped them to a piece of paper towel and labeled them.

Notice how the R1 and R2 feathers look different? Here's a closeup of the R2 and R3 feathers.

Those indented feather tip ends, I found out, help the bird to dive quickly, as they do hunt on the wing.

One end of the skewer bits are then glued into the shaft of the feathers. The feathers on the paper towel already had these glued into them. This next part was something that we did on a whim and it ended up being a big help during this imping process. Avian vet and Board Member Dr. Michelle Loftus, or "Zarinda, the Imping Queen" as she was dubbed by the end of the imping procedure,...Smile Michelle!...

..asked me yesterday, the day we had originally planned to do this, to take a picture of the Merlin's good left wing....

..which I printed out and brought with me this morning.

We then numbered the feathers from 1 to 5, starting with the outermost one, flipped the page over and made outlines of the wing tips on the back.

This template helped us in determining length criteria of the feathers and some of the ones we cut off the first bird ended up being too short. Good thing we had a second bird to get feathers from!

Next, we need to prep the patient. It must be anesthetized, of course, so out comes the technical medical equipment and cone mask.

Penny held the Merlin while Dr. Loftus held the mask up over its face. You're getting sleepy...

...sleepy....

...and it's out like a light! At this point, after fitting the cone completely over it's head, supplying a continuous amount of anesthesia to it (I learned that birds, especially small raptors, metabolize anesthesia very quickly), we needed to secure the feet. This is in case our little feathered friend here came out of the anesthesia at an inopportune time, like when someone was leaning over it, they wouldn't get taloned. Their talons may be small but trust me, they can still do some damage.

So, we placed a gauze square in the middle of the foot....

..and then wrapped surgical wrap around the entire foot.

Then, with the Merlin sound asleep and the feet secure....

...we are ready to begin the actual imping process. First step is to cut the broken flight feathers as short as you can get them.

Then, while the Merlin was still on its back, we took each feather that we wanted to imp, aligned the two cut ends, and compared the result with our chart to determine if the feather was long enough.

Once we determined that they would all work, some took a bit of adjusting with the shaft and/or skewer lengths, we turned the Merlin over and handed the feathers to Penny, or "The Skewer Gluer Princess" as I was calling her by the end of the process, to have her carefully add some glue to the end of the skewer bits.

The feather is then, making sure it's still in alignment, carefully slid into the corresponding shaft portion on the wing itself.

Then a strip of paper is placed under the shaft juncture and the juncture itself has a spot of glue placed on it.

After every feather, Dr. Loftus always checked to see how it looked. Were the wings looking symmetrical?

Did they look correct when the wings were folded up?

Once all the feathers were glued in, the Merlin was then turned back over. She then looked at the symmetry of the wings from the underside,....

...took a quick peek to make sure our patient was still sound asleep,...

...which he was, and then the feather joints on the underside of the wing were glued as well.

After this, the procedure was done and it was time to wake up our patient. Shona held him upright during the initial wakening period.

Come on little one, time to wake up.

Wakey...wakey!

That's more like it! We then placed it in a small kennel, but because they do metabolize the anesthesia so quickly, it was fully alert within minutes of this picture.

We then waited a couple of hours and decided to take it out to a larger aviary, as it needs to build up its flight muscles after sitting for over a month. Shona slowly opened her hands and it flew up to the farthest and highest perch in the back of the aviary with no problems whatsoever! WOOHOO! Or,
as Dr. Loftus kept saying throughout the morning, "This is SO COOL!"

So now we wait, make sure none of the feathers fall out, make sure it can turn mid-flight, and once we determine everything is good, it can be released!

Whew! Well, that was my day at Wolf Hollow. I hope you found it as interesting as I did! Til next time...

6 comments:

Kari said...

I know I heard the story first-hand, but yeah!!! Anesthesia is scary in raptor! I did the anesthesia and monitoring once on a bald eagle whose wing we had to fix! I breathed a sigh of relief when he woke up!

Iso said...

Wow!
"That's pretty freaking cool!" is what Jim is saying over and over. Like all the photos of the whole procedure! Very educational. What a cute sleepy little birdie! And that he flew right away! Amazing!!

Heather said...

Thanks Kari!

Thanks Iso and Jim! Yes, it was "pretty freaking cool" and I am happy I was able to be there! From what I hear, it's still doing well!

Shannon said...

God, Heather, that is amazing! Is anyone else out there writing and showing photos about this sort of stuff? I don't think so!

anne said...

So unbelievably cool, Heather. Thank you so much for taking the time to take the photos and then lay them out with clear explanations - awesome!

What a pretty, pretty little bird. And a lucky one, at that.

Mom said...

Heather...this is bird CSI!!! I had no idea it involved so much or that it could even be done!

Good job, girls!

Mom