Surgery helps hawk fly again

Red-shouldered hawk lost 7 tail feathers in hunting accident

By Jacey Birch - Anchor/Animal Advocate

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Animal rehabilitators in Broward County helped a red-shouldered hawk take flight once again after it lost seven feathers in a hunting accident.

The juvenile hawk was trying to hunt a pair of puppies in Coral Springs that were inside of a screened-in patio. When the hawk went for the kill, he got tangled in the screen and ripped off more than half his tail feathers.

"The tail feathers of a bird of prey, or any bird really, is basically like the bird's rudder, like a rudder on a boat," said Laura Wyatt, the wildlife curator at Flamingo Gardens in Davie.

Without his tail feathers, the hawk wasn't able to safely fly. To help him, the animal rehabilitation specialists at Flamingo Gardens and the Sawgrass Nature Center decided to use surgical methods dating back hundreds of years.

By implanting or "imping" cadaver feathers right into the bird's body, the hawk's missing feathers can be replaced. Similar to elective plastic surgery, the cadaver feathers can actually substitute for the real thing.

"We'll use the carbonite rod to go in the feather shaft that's damaged," said Wyatt, as she showed Local 10's Jacey Birch the utensils used in the surgery.

"Just like you would take a hair extension and add it to your own hair to enhance it or make it longer, the bird absolutely has to have those feathers," said Donna Fife, Wildlife Rehabilitator at the Sawgrass Nature Center. "Raptors really need to have perfect feathers to hunt well and to fly well."

The young hawk's feathers would have grown back naturally, but not for another twelve months.

"You don't really want to have a bird have to wait a complete year for its tail feathers to molt out and grow back and then release it," Wyatt said.

The goal was to get the hawk back in to the wild as soon as possible, so that time would not be wasted with the hawk in captivity.

The surgery of implanted feathers went so smoothly that the red-shouldered hawk was able to be released back into the wild ten minutes after a 45 minute surgery.

The implanted feathers will remain in place over the next year. Eventually, the implants will begin to fall out when the bird's natural feathers grow back.

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