Imping an Eagle ??? Seriously ???

Imping an eagle...not many understand what that means! 

Imp: as a noun this word is defined as " a mischievous child or a little devil or demon".  But as a verb it means to "mend or repair"  and specifically used in falconry to imp is to "graft feathers into a wing". 

This eagle had extensive feather damage due to feather mites.  The mites leave characteristic angular lines of destruction as they damage the feathers, as seen in this first photo.  (The feathers that are not damaged are ones that the eagle had replaced since we had treated her for mites.)  As you can imagine, this bird could not fly well with all the feather damage.  That's where imping comes in...we replace the damaged feathers with new ones!

The process, unfortunately, involves having to take feathers from a deceased bird of the same species.  It's like organ donation in people...you are thankful for the donation, but are sad that a death had to occur for the donation to be received.  We obtained our feathers for imping this bird from an eagle that was euthanized this past fall due to paralysis from a back injury.

Since each flight feather has a distinct shape which enables them to fly well and control their flight, is important to use the exact feather to replace the damaged one. The damaged feather is cut off 2-4 inches from the live bird's wing and the donor feather is cut in the exact place.  A bamboo skewer is whittled down to the exact diameter to fit snugly into the shaft (the hollow part)  of the feather that is left on the live bird and the donor feather.  Then the feather is epoxied into place.  (The eagle is under anesthesia for this entire procedure.)  The process sounds simple but is very time and personnel intensive. Whittling the bamboo to the exact size for a snug fit is the difficult part.  We had 5 people whittling, 2 people cutting and gluing the feathers back in place and one person monitoring anesthesia...and it still took over 3 hours to imp all the feathers!  The end result is a wing with perfect feathers! Eventually, she will go through a natural molt and replace these imped feathers with her own new feathers.  

But the time is worth it!  This immature Bald Eagle is now being creance flown to strengthen her flight muscles.  We want her to be in top physical condition before she is released back into the wild.  But without the imping procedure, this would not be possible!