Falconry for Rehabilitation: Imping

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):

imp1 impfinal

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. IMG_8190


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.



3 thoughts on “Falconry for Rehabilitation: Imping

  1. Reblogged this on Skvarla Falconry and commented:
    Imping is an extremely useful skill in the falconry toolbag. This post provides a broad overview and some good photos of the process. One thing I don’t like is the use of hard metal pins in the feather shaft – they don’t bend easily and may cause a second break. Instead you can use bamboo, which has more give, or imp the new feather directly into the old one by cutting it too long and making a slit along the excess shaft so it fits into the old feather.

    • I agree with you about the metal pins (and I should have been clearer here) – I’ll use metal pins if I have to, but usually we use these carbon fiber rods (they sell them at hobby supply stores – I think they’re for model aircraft) that are very light, but have some flex to them, and are quite strong. They also have a bit of texture, so they hold to the glue better than a smooth metal pin, and come in several different widths to fit larger/smaller feathers. The above bird got carbon fiber imping shafts, but our demo imping feather has a metal pin, just because no one wanted to waste the carbon fiber on a sample.

  2. I didn’t know that it was possible to essentially transplant feathers like this. It seems like it would be really useful in rehabilitation! I want to get a license to work with raptors. Do you know what training process I would have to go through?

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