Australian Zoo Gives Badly Burnt Cockatoo New Wings In Icarus-Inspired Surgery


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor

The Short-billed black cockatoo, or Carnaby's cockatoo, is endemic to Western Australia and endangered. David Steele/Shutterstock

Vets at Perth Zoo, Australia, have given new wings to an endangered cockatoo after it got burned sitting on a power line, in an incredibly simple but effective surgery using matchsticks and superglue.

The young Carnaby’s cockatoo was perched on a power line when it is thought the bird next to him was electrocuted and engulfed in a ball of flames. The lucky juvenile survived, but suffered burns to his wings and face.


He was found by a "concerned passer-by" who took him to a local vet, where he was then transferred to Perth Zoo for specialized treatment under vet Dr Peter Ricci and his team.

After a week of R&R, where he gained weight and strength, on Monday he was deemed fit for surgery to attach feathers to his burnt wing so his injuries don’t prevent him from flying. The procedure the team used is called “imping”, short for implanting, and is commonly used for domestic birds whose feathers have been trimmed too short or wild birds found with damaged wings.

The process involves using a syringe to coat the donor feathers with superglue, which are then attached to matchsticks that act as the quill and are attached to the dead skin of the wing.

“The trick is to get the right feather in the right place and the right angles before the glue dries so there’s a little bit of tricky work to getting the features in place but it’s not rocket science overall,” Dr Ricci said.


“Birds regrow their feathers once every year, so once this bird is ready to regrow its feathers, it will push out these old, dead feathers and regrow new ones,” he added, which usually happens between February and April each year.

The cockatoo is still recovering from surgery and will undergo rehabilitation to strengthen his wings, before hopefully being released back into the wild. Dr Ricci said there is every chance he will fly again, but will go to a cockatoo rescue center first to prepare.

Carnaby’s cockatoos are endemic to Western Australia and are one of only three black cockatoo species found there. Though specific population numbers are unknown, they are considered endangered as their numbers have decreased by 50 percent since the 1960s. In fact, according to the 2016 Great Cocky Count, a citizen science project to keep an eye on Carnaby's cockatoo numbers, their populations are decreasing at around 14 percent a year.

Hopefully, this story ends better than that of Icarus, who flew too close to the Sun on wings of feathers and wax, and this little dude will go on to live a long and happy life filled with many fat babies thanks to the kindness of strangers.



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  • animal surgery,

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