Brisbane vet returning flight status to wing-clipped birds through specialized procedure - petsitterbank

Brisbane vet returning flight status to wing-clipped birds through specialized procedure

A Queensland veterinarian is returning injured birds to the sky by transplanting donated feathers onto their wings.

Brisbane Bird Vet owner Doctor Adrian Gallagher told ABC Radio Brisbane that several bird owners still felt the need to trim their bird’s wings.

“People trim their wings to stop them from flying, to train them, and a lot of the wing trims that people perform are really severe and result in a lot of falling for the birds,” he said.

“These birds are often very scared.

“They try and fly, they hit the floor like a rock, they have no feathers to support them, and [for] birds being a prey creature, their only defense is escape.”

Dr Gallagher’s veterinary practice has a feather bank that allows it to perform feather transplants in a procedure known as “imping” that enables the birds to fly again.

Dr Gallagher said incorrect wing trimming can cause birds to fall over.(Supplied: Brisbane Bird Vet)

Dr Gallagher said the replacement feathers were “a little bit like hair extensions or false nails”.

“We can place those feathers back into the trimmed feathers and give these birds back their flight,” he said.

Dr Gallagher said the intervention enabled birds to regain flight quicker than in the wild.

“We also assist a lot of our native birds because they often have trauma or they might be injured by a car,” he said.

“Those birds don’t have to stay in care for the year or so it would normally take them to moult their feathers naturally and replace those damaged feathers with new feathers naturally.

“We can replace those feathers straight away and re-establish flight.”

Performing the impinging procedure

Dr Gallagher said that after anesthetic was delivered, the hollow shaft of the bird’s existing feathers were used to support the transplant feathers.

Green parrot before and after impinging procedure.
Dr Gallagher performs the procedure on both native and companion birds.(Supplied: Brisbane Bird Vet)

“We generally whittle down something like a little toothpick for really small birds, then use a medical grade superglue to glue that into the shaft of the feather that remains in the wing,” he said.

“Then we trim the donor feather at the same size, superglue that into place, and align it.

“If we can replace those feathers straight away and their flight, you honestly can almost see the bird smile.”

A lack of bird protection

Dr Gallagher also operated on companion birds that had been mutilated by their owners.

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Dr Gallagher said birds will be able to fly immediately after the impinging procedure.(Supplied: Brisbane Bird Vet)

He said animal welfare laws did not go far enough to protect birds from a procedure called pinioning, where permanent damage was caused to the wing bones and feathers in the process of trimming wings to prevent flight.

“The Animal Care and Protection Act in Queensland is very vague and does not address these items specifically,” Dr Gallagher said.

“A wing trim for companion birds should only be performed to prevent escape, not to prevent flying.”

RSPCA Queensland principal scientist Mandy Paterson said feather-trimming could cause distress to pet birds if they were not used to being handled.

“They may also be distressed afterwards when they’re unable to fly how they’re used to,” she said.

“If feather-trimming is done, the bird needs to be able to fly to perches and remain safe.

“Trimming can pose dangers to birds if they can no longer reach safety.”

Little choice about colours

Dr Gallagher said feathers in the bank were donated by clients and people through social media, which meant sourcing a matching feather could be hard to find.

White cockatiel before and after impinging procedure.
A bird with feathers transplanted onto its clipped wing.(Supplied: Brisbane Bird Vet)

“We had a little rainbow bee-eater not that long ago and we didn’t have any rainbow bee-eater feathers, so we had to try and find something very close in size to that bird and then just trim the feathers delicately into the right shape,” he said.

“Every feather on the wing is a slightly different shape and all those feathers occur in order, so it’s a little bit of an art to get those feathers optimal.”

Dr Gallagher said matching colors for feathers was not always possible.

“I remember both a galah and an African gray that we feather-matched, and they’re gray birds but we only had green feathers,” he said.

“So there’s one African gray going around with one green wing and a galah with two green wings.”

Advice for bird owners

Brisbane Bird Vet veterinary technician Alessandro Spinelli said it was important that owners who wanted to trim their bird’s wings followed the advice of professionals.

“Ideally pet owners should bring their birds in for a consultation at a vet so they can look at the bird first and then perform the trimming if necessary,” he said.

“If a pet owner feels confident enough, our clinic provides videos online with professional advice for a pet owner to follow along at home.

“It is most important that the procedure is performed with at least professional advice, and done safely and properly.”

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