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Burned DC owl who got feather transplant tests out new wings

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After receiving a feather transplant at the University of Minnesota last week, an owl from Washington, D.C. took them for a test flight – and those new quills worked.

The snowy owl was found in the nation's capital after reportedly being hit by a bus and was brought to the U of M's Raptor Center to replace some singed feathers, which prevented the bird from flying.

On Wednesday, the owl took a series of reconditioning flights so the center could assess the bird's flight mechanics, strength and endurance, the Raptor Center said. The bird flew on a leather tether up to about 300 feet, the Washington Post says.

“I’m looking at how evenly the wings are extended, they should be symmetrical. I look at the speed of each wing beat, again they should be the same. … As we go on, he’ll probably get a little more height. I’d like to see him turn, although there isn’t that much wind that would encourage the turn in a relatively small space, but I’m very pleased so far,” Lori Arent, who performed the feather transplant, told reporters.

The first flight was a success, but the center says the owl has some more rehab before it can be released into the wild, KSTP says

The Raptor Center is unsure when the owl will be released, but when it is, it may be in northern Minnesota, WCCO says.

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Because the U of M’s Raptor Center is internationally known for replacing bird feathers, an East Coast rehabilitation center reached out to center officials for help with the owl. The U of M performed the feather transplant, which is called imping, to replace its damaged wing feathers.

The Raptor Center saves flight feathers from bird patients that don't survive. Because feather shafts are hollow, these replacement feathers can be fitted, inserted and glued using a piece of bamboo as a connector between the bird and the new replacement feathers.

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