D.C. snowy owl takes flight on repaired wings

April 2, 2014

The D.C. snowy owl is on a flight path to recovery.

On Wednesday, the owl took her first test flight near the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, where she was sent recently to replace feathers that were damaged when he was apparently struck by a bus in downtown Washington in January.Several D.C. police officers rescued the owl and took it to the National Zoo for care.

When the owl was brought recently to Minnesota, specialists determined that some of her feathers appeared burned or singed, possibly by a methane burner, said veterinarian Julia Ponder, the center’s executive director.

“We are evaluating the flight mechanics of the snowy owl in this important step of the rehabilitation process,” Ponder said.

Raptor Center Clinic Manager Lori Arent said in a video that the owl’s damaged feathers were replaced using modern techniques of a centuries-old falconer’s practice called “imping.” Clinicians inserted feathers attached to bamboo, which the clinic keeps on hand, into the healthy, hollow shafts that remained on the owl’s wings.

Once the new feathers are fitted, they are glued into place and allowed to set for at least two days, Arent said. The temporary feathers are designed to work until the owl goes through the next natural molt cycle, she said.

The clinic tested the new feathers as the bird flew on a leather tether up to about 300 feet.

The first flight was a success, but specialists will continue to monitor the replacement feathers and the owl’s strength and rehabilitation before it can be returned to the wild.

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Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.
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