Saturday, May 16, 2015

Injured Israeli Swift Gets Feather Transplant

Swifts are peculiarly beloved birds. What is interesting about them is that they never stop flying. They eat, mate and even sleep on the wing, only landing to nest. Swifts that can't fly, die.

So the young adult swift a bemused Tel Aviv couple found flapping around squeaking in their bathroom would have been doomed, but they brought it to the Wildlife Hospital of the Nature and Parks Protection Authority and Safari Gardens. The hospital diagnosed broken flight feathers, and consulted with the Director of the Frankfurt Swifts Clinic, Dr. Christiane Haupt, a world expert in treating and rehabilitating swifts.

As luck would have it, biologist Tina Steigerwald was about to come to Israel to volunteer at the animal hospital. She harvested feathers from a dead German swift, and prepared them with strong but light carbon fibers. She then flew to Israel with the feathers and equipment needed for surgery, and in a two-hour operation, transplanted them to the Israeli bird, a process called "imping" that was originally developed for falconry.

The Israeli swift turned out to need six new feathers in its left wing and one in the right.

One can't just take turkey feathers and glue them to the swift. Because of its airborne lifestyle, the feather match had to be exact so the bird could survive in the wild afterwards. Feather lengths had to be accurate to a tenth of a millimeter, and the attachment angle was also crucial.

In preparation for living aloft, the baby swifts spend over 40 days in the nest, which is very long for such a small bird. They have only one chance to get out of the nest. Once a swift gets out and flies, he keeps flying for about two or three years.

When nesting in Israel, the birds leave the nest in the spring, and within the space of a few weeks, migrate to Africa. They spend the winter there and come back as young swifts. That migratory cycle continues until the swift finds a mate and start nesting. The parents take turns sitting on the eggs, then feeding the chicks.

Adults weigh about 45 grams, and for such a tiny bird, they do live long. Other birds that size usually live four to six years, ten at the most. The oldest known adult swift found in nature was 21.

Caring for a caged swift is some trick, since they're high-strung and only eat on the fly, literally. Put on a pile of bugs, a swift wouldn't know what to do. When swifts are in therapy, they need to be fed six or seven times a day, during daylight hours, by gently opening their beaks and pushing in bugs. They're very smart and emotional. If you're not nice to them, they become agitated and don't make it.

Our swift recovered from the anesthetic after a couple of hours, was kept warm and once himself again, was fed on lovely insects and vitamin supplements. He also underwent daily training to improve his wing use. Once he had put on weight and reached 42 grams, he was released on the zoo grounds and headed straight for Tel Aviv.

Source; Haaretz

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