Vets at Perth zoo have used matchsticks and glue to replace the flight feathers of a Carnaby’s cockatoo which was badly injured after it was burned on a power line.
Using a syringe to coat the donor feathers with superglue and a matchstick to shape the quill, vets replaced the juvenile bird’s feathers and cut away the burnt remains in an effort to help it fly again.
The bird, which is an endangered species, was taken to the zoo’s vet hospital late last month. After a week recuperating and gaining weight, it was deemed fit enough to undergo surgery on Monday.
“This little guy was unfortunately burned when the bird sitting next to him exploded on power lines, so we needed to replace his feathers,” said a vet, Peter Ricci. “He’s faring quite well, he is a young bird so he is eating quite well and he’s begging for food so he has made some great improvements so far.
“Just to think, that poor little baby would have been sitting on that power line next to his mum or his dad and that bird unfortunately has gone up in flames and passed away as well,” he said.
The procedure to replace the feathers is called “imping”, something Ricci said was fairly common on domestic birds whose wings had been trimmed too short, and on wild birds of prey with damaged flight feathers.
“It’s a pretty basic procedure,” he said. “We use pretty basic tools – just matchsticks and superglue, really. The trick is to get the right feather in the right place and the right angles before the glue dries so there’s a little bit of tricky work to getting the features in place but it’s not rocket science overall.”
It was not unlike a person getting hair extensions, Ricci said, as long as your normal description of hair extensions includes the phrase “dead tissue”.
“We have got dead tissue that was once alive and that the body has produced, and we’re trimming that and just regluing it on to another part of the dead tissue again,” he said. “So it’s in essence just like hair extensions in people.”
The cockatoo was still recovering, but Ricci said there was every chance it would be able to fly again and to be released to the wild.
There is no clear estimate of the number of Carnaby’s cockatoos left in the wild but populations have declined by 50% since the 1960s.
The species, identifiable by its white tail and cheeks, is endemic to south-west Western Australia and has lost significant tracts of habitat owing to land clearing and urban sprawl. According to the 2015 Great Cocky Count, administered by Birdlife Australia, numbers have further declined by 15% year on year.
Once the bird recovers, it will be sent to a black cockatoo wildlife sanctuary to prepare it for release.