Friday, May 20, 2005

Talon Care

Most people probably don't give talons a whole lot of thought--other than they're really sharp things to be avoided. But there are maintenance issues that need to be addressed when an owl is in captivity.

Talons grow continuously, just like our toenails. But they grow to a nice sharp point. They are self-sharpening, so if they are blunted for any reason, as they grow they will self-sharpen.

In the wild, owl talons are subjected to a lot. They're used for killing animals almost every day, they rub on all kinds of surfaces from bark to rock, and they're exposed to sun, rain, heat, cold, and all the environmental extremes. This keeps them in good shape.

In captivity, (especially in our house!!) Alice's talons don't get the wear they would in the wild, so they get overgrown unless we do some regular maintenance on them.

Every month or two I use a dog toenail trimmer to trim off the tips of Alice's talons. This keeps them the proper length. If they get too long, her toes twist and turn when she tries to stand flat-footed. Trimming blunts the tips of the talons (bonus for us, and it doesn't hurt Alice since she's not a hunter.) It doesn't take long for those talons to get sharp again, though.

Last night I trimmed Alice's talons. She doesn't like this, so while I'm trying to snip off the proper amount, she's figuring out which perch she can hop/fly to next to get away from me. Plus she pretty much continuously hoots because she hates the whole affair.

Alice's hind two talons on each foot really need some work. Her front talons are used to hold her food as she eats it every night and usually wind up in her water bowl when she gets her daily drink of water. This repeated wetting/drying keeps them in better shape. Her hind talons aren't often exposed to water, since she thinks bathing once every few weeks is great plenty.

Alice also really doesn't like it when I try to get around her to trim her hind talons. As a result, they've gotten a little overgrown and thick. Last night I was finally able to trim them down to a better length, but they're still thick.

Talons flake and peel as they grow. (Older birds often have flaky talons.) One or two of Alice's hind talons are flaking pretty good, which is a good sign--they're naturally thinning themselves down. I try to scratch away at the white, flaky stuff, but my fingernails aren't much of a match for her talons. We're going to have to take a dremmel to them when we cope (trim) her beak soon (also done with a dremmel.)

Not fun stuff, but it's a necessary part of living with an owl....

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