In-Depth Info on Imping


At the Texas State Aquarium, we pride ourselves on being at the intersection of science and saving animals. So, last week when our Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital staff learned a procedure and then successfully applied the technique to a Crested Caracara in their care and was able to release him back into the wild earlier than expected, we felt right at home in that intersection – thanks to imping.

Imping is a procedure wherein feathers are taken from a deceased bird and then transferred to a live bird so that the live bird’s feathers will molt feathers faster, thus replacing its broken feathers and bettering the bird’s chances of being able to fly again.

Second Chances staff already had heard of the procedure, and when the annual Raptor Research Foundation meeting took place in Corpus Christi recently, they utilized the opportunity to attend a workshop and perfect the procedure firsthand. The RRF is an international scientific society dedicated to accumulating and disseminating scientific information regarding raptors. 

Raptor Research Foundation Logo

Raptor Research Foundation Logo

Second Chances Veterinary Technician Laura Martinelli (she’s featured in our Crested Caracara release video) said she had been hopeful about the technique for a while for this particular bird, and Second Chances already had a donor bird from which to transfer the feathers.  The process involves binding together broken feather shafts to healthy, whole feathers with bamboo and an animal-friendly adhesive. Imping allows for birds with broken or clipped feathers to molt these false feathers faster, making way for new, healthy feathers to grow in. 

Veterinary staff studied the various steps involved in imping for a few months prior to attending the workshop. Laura explained that shaved bamboo shoots are inserted into feather shafts that anatomically match up with the same types of feathers on both birds, these are secured to the shaft with glue, and then left to molt out naturally. The procedure took around an hour and was extremely rewarding, said Laura. 

“It’s so cool when you have something like this that you study, practice, then actually do it and it works,” Laura commented, “Doing things like this is one of the best parts of my job.”

Our Second Chances hospital was called in early February by a local man who discovered the Crested Caracara, a vulture-like raptor, in a field near his home. The bird was on the ground and clearly unable to fly due to a multitude of clipped or broken feathers.

During the RRF conference, Second Chances staff was able to practice imping on supplied bird carcasses and then was excited and confident to perform the technique on the Crested Caracara.

The procedure was a huge success and all of the Texas State Aquarium was happy to be able to release the bird back into his natural habitat along Oso Creek, at the intersection of a winding creek and grassy marsh area, where our passion for science and animals came full circle.

To view the video from our Crested Caracara release, visit the following link:

Stay tuned – our next blog post will feature information about animal enrichment and how your donations and contributions help support causes like our Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital!

Bamboo shoot in feather shaft

Bamboo shoot in feather shaft