Feather transplant gives tawny lucky break

By Shannon Verhagen 8 August 2018
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A complex procedure has given an injured tawny frogmouth a new lease on life – shortening its recovery from up to a year to just six days.

THE BIRD WAS found with its wing stuck in a barbed wire fence in the Queensland town of Jimboomba – 50kms south of Brisbane – about a month ago.

After a neighbour reported the sighting, senior wildlife carer and president of Reptile Rehabilitation Queensland Anette Bird came to its aide.

See more: Tawny frogmouths: 5 things you may not know about these masters of disguise

“If you can picture a 6ft chain fence with barbed wire at the top – that’s where it was stuck,” Anette explains. “It must have flown into the fence at night – as they are nocturnal.”

“I could see it was in a lot of trouble, and initially I thought it would have to be euthanised.”

“Animals that get stuck in fences tend to struggle and make things worse for themselves, wrapping the wire tighter and tangling themselves further. It was also impaled by barbed wire in its chest at the base of the wing – the poor thing got a double whammy.”

With the help of a fellow wildlife carer and their ute, they were able to stand on the vehicle’s tray to reach the bird, which was then sedated, removed from the fence and wrapped in a towel.

tawny frogmouth

(Image Credit: Anette Bird)

A second tawny in trouble

“Not even two minutes down the road I get a second call about a tawny frogmouth in the area,” Anette explains. “Normally I would say I’ve already got one I’m rescuing, but something nagged me and I thought ‘I’ll go get the other one,’” Anette says. “And that was the best decision I could have made.”

The second tawny had been hit by a car at about 100kms/hr, leaving it with severe head and wing injuries, and unfortunately had to be euthanised.

However, Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Service’s avian resident veterinarian Dr Hamish Baron was able to salvage the feathers from the perished tawny frogmouth, and undertook a procedure which saved the first tawny – affectionately named Kouro – months of rehabilitation.

“Imping is effectively feather transplanting,” Hamish explains. “We shape a bamboo skewer and insert it into the hollow feather shaft still left in the live bird’s wing, and the shaft of the donor feather, and it acts as a bridge between the two, and it means they can fly pretty well straight away.”

See more: Tassie’s ‘Poppa Tawny Frogmouth’ converted his home into a tawny rehabilitation centre

The procedure took around 45 minutes to transplant six flight feathers – without which, Kouro would have been looking at 6-12 months of rehabilitation while its feathers grew back.

“It’s a cool procedure,” Hamish says. “It’s the sort of case where you feel like you’re making a difference.”

“All the stars in the universe lined up on that day for that bird,” Anette says. “You cannot put into words how it feels watching a bird go through such trauma and see it fly away six days later.”

Kelsey Head

(Image Credit: Kelsey Head)

Positive awareness for Aussie animals

The rescue was a combined effort from five major entities – RSPCA, Wildcare Australia, Brisbane Birds and Exotics Veterinary Service, Reptile Rehabilitation Queensland and Birds Injured, Rehabilitated and Orphaned.

Since images were uploaded to social media this week, the story of Kouro and the feather transplant has gone viral.

See more: Deadly stare: Australia’s iconic tawny frogmouth

Hamish, who works between Brisbane Birds and Exotics Veterinary Service, the University of Queensland, and University of Sydney, says it’s a great opportunity to pass on knowledge and teach students how to successfully care for injured wildlife.

“It’s good to have a feel-good story out there,” he says. “And the beauty of doing wildlife work is contributing positively to saving native animals.”

“We do this day-in-day-out and go about our business without recognition,” Anette says. “It’s really good to see people show an interest.”

(Image Credit: Kelsey Head)