Imping is something really cool I learned to do from my falconry sponsor, and now I use it on rehab birds fairly often.
Essentially, it’s the falconry practice of replacing damaged flight feathers on birds with unbroken feathers, either from a previous molt, or a donor bird.
Here’s a Before & After of a Coopers Hawk that needed new tail feathers (from rather different angles):
In rehabilitating wild birds, it helps birds who have broken feathers so that they can be released sooner, rather than waiting around until they molt. Most raptors only molt once a year, so imping really comes in handy.
As an example – this red shouldered hawk came to The Avian Reconditioning Center with almost an entirely busted tail, save for two feathers. It took about an hour to give it a new tail with a few feathers, pins, and some super glue.
The donor feathers are trimmed to match the broken feathers on the bird, and then glued in place with a tiny pin in the hollow of the shaft. If the bird doesn’t have a shaft to stick the pin in, it won’t work, so this is really only good for birds with broken feathers, not birds who can’t hard-pen feathers. This won’t work in a vascular feather, even if it’s dried up.
Also, (hopefully), you have someone willing to sit there for an hour and hold the bird while you do this.
If you measure well, you can make the new feathers line up almost perfectly with the birds original feather. You can see the pin in this picture of a demo feather.
This Red Shouldered Hawk was still a juvenile when he came in, but we only had adult donor feathers in the feather repository, so he ended up with kind of a mismatched tail. It works the same though. I don’t know how his tail got like this, but he had broken almost the whole thing off.
Instead of waiting around a year for him to grow a new one, we stuck a new one on and let him go on his way.