Imping Parrot Feathers

Powerful things can happen when you team up with an Avian Vet.

Imping Parrot Feathers

Max is a 20-ish Congo African Grey who, until recently, was a mere shadow of what a bird ought to be. But after undergoing a proven, yet innovative, avian procedure; a plea for help from our Companion Parrot Flock answered; and Max, as he once was, was reborn.

Let’s start at the beginning. Shortly after having been weaned, Max was brought home by his dad. He was loved, coddled, and basically given everything a bird could want for a happy, loving, stable relationship in a family. They lived together in joyful harmony for approximately 10 years before Dad became ill. It would be a lengthy illness that would take its toll over 8-10 years. During this time of declining health for his Dad, Max spent increasing amounts of time in his cage, alone, being handled less and less. On the occasions that Dad felt he had the strength and energy, he made every effort to spend time with and handle Max. But, over time and not being handled regularly, Max did what many birds can do. He became hand shy, if not defensive. And he began to mutilate his feathers.

Max would bite off his flight feathers and his tail feathers. Some feathers he chose to pluck right out, and repeatedly plucked so many times that there would simply be no possibility of regrowth. Some of those were flights, some were coverts and others included even his tail feathers. But the most devastating effect of the mutilation that Max caused was the loss of his ability to balance, perch with stability or move with control of his posture. What happens to a bird from there is a surrender of self-confidence. And when a bird has no confidence, they can become depressed, lethargic, and even aggressive when approached.

Max lost his dad not too very long ago and was “bequeathed” to family members who had absolutely no experience with Companion Parrots. They dealt with Max in the same manner they had witnessed between Max and his dad in Dad’s declining days. By now, his illness had left him weak and tired. And he had resorted to wearing gloves in order to be able to even “get hold” of Max. Max’s new caretakers continued this method of approaching Max because that was what they had seen between Max and his dad before Max came to live with them. What they had seen was all they knew.

Once Max came to live with his current family, his new mom could not so much as touch him. It was the fact that Mom could not handle Max at all that brought about the realization that Max was merely surviving life, and not thriving.  Doctor had performed the “imping” procedure that he proposed for Max nearly a half dozen times previously in his career. But, by his own admission, none of those cases were at the level of dysfunction of our Max.

Doctor put out that plea for donations of primary and secondary wing feathers from both wings, and tail feathers, specifically only whole feathers that had been naturally molted from healthy birds. And the social media response was overwhelming! Our own Felix donated a full complement of perfectly matched, perfectly balanced flight and tail feathers! Other Facebook fans sent hundreds of feathers to help our Max. There were enough feathers that had arrived to build at least four complete African Greys. Doctor implanted the feathers INSIDE the remaining shafts of feathers that Max had chewed off in his mutilation behavior, but had not pulled out. Ultimately 6 flights on each wing and a number of beautiful red tail feathers were successfully “imped”.

When I first laid eyes on Max post op, he was still in a bit of a stupor both from the procedure and being in unfamiliar surroundings. But he was calm, balanced, and terribly REGAL looking! After giving Max time to adjust to the presence of three people he had met only hours earlier, and one new totally unfamiliar human (ME), we opened the door to his travel cage so I could get some unobstructed pictures. When Max was quite receptive to the attention, AND maintaining a posture of confidence and physical stability, the Vet Tech,  Rebecca, slowly inserted her arm into his cage and simply rested it on the rope perch, just in front of Max. Nonchalantly, as if he was making no distinction between known perch and new human flesh, Max stepped onto Rebecca’s hand!

Slowly, carefully, Rebecca brought her arm out of the cage and lowered Max to the floor with the intention to position Max to move around some without stimulating the use of his wings. Of course, as would happen with any bird, the sensation of downward movement caused the instinctual reaction to flap his wings. Max wasn’t fazed, as he stepped to the floor. We all joined Rebecca and Max on the floor to witness the miracle that was about to unfold before our very eyes. The Max I was seeing on the floor was confident … poised … precocious! Having only the verbal history of his former state for comparison, I never would have imagined the bird they talked about before the procedure ever existed.

Max to choose his own path of discovery on the floor. Sitting a couple of feet away with camera in hand to record the events, I was absolutely amazed and delighted to see Max toddling across the floor in my direction! He stepped up with virtually no verbal cue, and there we were. Nose to beak. We chatted, of course, about his new “gear”, and how beautiful he is, and what a good bird he is. Then THE most amazing thing happened. I GOT A KISS!!! I did! Natural as you please. I melted. Right then and there! When I regained my composure, I continued visiting and conversing with this absolutely adorable bundle of feathers and, as is my habit, I reached up and gently began to stroke Max’s beak. He liked it! As a matter of fact, he was quite receptive!

Max’s mom’s reaction when she came to pick him up was utter shock. I am told her comment was, “Who IS this bird?! And WHAT have you done with Max?” That moment, when she held Max perched on her hand was the first time she had EVER held her bird.


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