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Hawk Regains Gift of Flight

Feather replacements and specialized care enable red-tailed hawk to fly again

  • The red-tailed hawk could not fly when he arrived at SFWC with singed feathers. SFWC

  • Feathers from a deceased animal that match the hawk's in shape and length are ready to be attached. SFWC

  • The feather extensions are glued to the healthy shafts of the singed feathers in a procedure known as imping. SFWC

  • All new feather extensions have been successfully put into place to create full plumage. SFWC

  • The red-tailed hawk shows off his outdoor enclosure where he is rehabilitated before being released. SFWC

  • Flight practice in the outdoor enclosure enables the hawk to gain strength and the ability to fly again. SFWC

  • In July, 2013, the red-tailed hawk flies free again. Jessica Sayre/SFWC

  • Now with new feathers of his own, the red-tailed hawk will live out his days in the wild. Jessica Sayre/SFWC

Flight is critical to helping a bird hunt for food and escape danger, and losing the ability to fly can often have tragic consequences. However, thanks to the efforts of South Florida Wildlife Center, one badly-injured red-tailed hawk is able to fly high once again.

A dire situation
On September 7, 2012, a red-tailed hawk was admitted to South Florida Wildlife Center with incredible signs of trauma. He was emaciated with mild wounds on his feet, and the flight feathers on his left side were singed, which made it impossible for him to fly. His condition was consistent with electrocution, and he was in desperate need of care.

More bad news came with the results of blood work. Our new red-tailed hawk patient was anemic and dehydrated. South Florida Wildlife Center veterinarians and staff immediately began fluid therapy and a regimen of antibiotics. Thankfully, after several days of careful hand feeding the hawk’s health was greatly improved, and he was moved to an outdoor enclosure where he could live while the natural moult process rebuilt his wings to full plumage.

Brand new feathers
Unfortunately, at the beginning of March, 2013, our red-tailed hawk had not moulted and was still unable to fly. South Florida Wildlife Center veterinarians made the decision to give him feather extensions, a procedure known as imping, in an effort to speed up his rehabilitation.

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On March 13, 2013, a local falconer meticulously glued 16 feathers onto the healthy shafts of our hawk’s singed feathers. The donor feathers matched our hawk’s feathers in shape and length. They were from a recently deceased hawk who had been in the collection of another local wildlife sanctuary for more than 20 years. Knowing that his feathers would enable another hawk to experience flight once again made it a special experience for all who knew the deceased hawk.

Imping facilitates a bird's rehabilitation by allowing him to use his wings while he waits for his feathers to moult. During the moulting process, the feather extensions shed naturally and are replaced by the bird's own healthy feathers.

Freedom of flight
Shortly after the imping, our red-tailed hawk was moved to a large flight cage so he could test out his new wings. Within days, he was flying again. While his flying was a little clumsy with his borrowed feathers, we knew that his ability to exercise and fly prior to growing new healthy feathers of his own would ensure a successful rehabilitation and release.

On July 14, 2013, the red-tailed hawk was successfully released back into the wild. At the time of release, he had grown back almost all of his own feathers.

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