Injured Snowy Owl Flies Again With New Feathers

A snowy owl that was hit by a bus in Washington, D.C., is now recovering after having 18 of its feathers replaced.

The Arctic-dwelling birds rarely make it as far south as the nation’s capital, but this winter marked one of the largest migrations of snowy owls to the southeastern U.S. in decades.

This migration of snowy owls southward is called an irruption, and this winter’s irruption has been linked to lemming populations, the bird’s main prey.

The 2-year-old bird that was hit by the bus had also singed its feathers — likely as it took off from a chimney. Burned feathers don’t function correctly, making it difficult for birds to fly.

Upon recovering from its bus injuries, the snowy owl was taken to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota where it was given new feathers through a procedure known as “imping,” a falconers’ term that’s short for “implanting.”

Imping involves replacing the injured feathers with ones taken from other birds.

The owl received 10 flight feathers — five per wing — and eight tail feathers that had been removed from previous snowy owl patients.

Avian physiologist Lori Arent selected the feathers from a male owl of roughly the same age.

“I have a whole freezer full of harvested feathers, of different types and sizes, and I wanted to choose the right ones for this animal,” she told National Geographic.

After selecting the best feathers, the burned ones were carefully sheared off. Then Arent whittled bamboo so that one end would fit into the shaft of the new feather and the other into the shaft attached to the bird.

Arent then slid the new feathers in place and attached them with a drop of fast-drying epoxy.

She says the new feathers will work just as well as the owl’s original ones, but eventually they’ll fall out and the owl will grow new ones.

After recovering and getting daily exercise at the raptor center, the snowy owl was deemed fit for flying and released into the wild on April 19.

Watch the delicate process of attaching new owl feathers in the video above.

article by Laura Moss


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Susan T.
Susan T3 years ago

How cool is this! look at the wonderful things we can do ! I wish all people were focused on helping instead of hurting....

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

Were there any updates since "after recovering and getting daily exercise at the raptor center, the snowy owl was deemed fit for flying and released into the wild on April 19."? I tried looking it up but was unable to decipher Twitter.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

I've never heard of "imping" before. What a great idea!

I hope the Snowy Owl is doing OK with his new feathers!

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

What a great procedure and very non-invasive. I am impressed with the care that was given to the owl.

Geoff P.
Geoff P3 years ago

Very good

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

wonderful !! thank you

Nadine H.
Nadine H3 years ago

Science helping animals. TY

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson3 years ago


Margaret B.
Margaret B3 years ago

Beautiful way to rescue birds without having to keep them in care till new feathers grow.