Sunday, June 05, 2005


Coping is the official term for trimming the beak and talons on a bird of prey. Alice was a little overdue for a beak coping, as Alice was getting a little "long in the tooth" as far as owls go.

It's important not to let an owl's beak get overgrown. A long beak makes it more difficult for them to eat, but there is also a small risk that the beak could break off. If it breaks off too high up, then they can't tear up their food anymore.

So what is involved in coping Alice? Three people, a dremmel, and a bit of courage. It takes one person to hold her feet (that's me), one person to hold her head and run the dremmel to grind her beak down, and one person to hold her wings to her body.

Jeff Broberg, my falconry sponsor's husband, has coped hawk and falcon beaks for umpteen years for his wife's birds. Coping takes talent and skill, since you need to file the beak down to the proper proportions and shape. Jeff is a pro at this, and has done Alice's beak half a dozen times.

Jeff planned to stop in at the Houston Nature Center when he was in the area a few days ago. I just needed to round up a third person to hold Alice's wings. Normally my husband Ken does this, but he works nights and would be sleeping at the time Jeff was stopping in. We decided I could call and wake him up if I couldn't pin anyone else down to do the deed.

I called one person I thought would be up to the task, but he wasn't around. Then I just figured I'd wait and see who (if anyone) was around when Jeff came. It just so happened that a former co-worker of mine who is very good with animals stopped in for a chat right when Jeff showed up. And I suckered her into the task....

It was 4:30 PM. This is significant because this is usually when Alice and I head home from work for the day, and Alice always has a HUGE poop cooked up. I walked with her outside to see if I could get her to go before we started coping, but no luck. She knew something was up and didn't poop.

So we started the coping procedure in the nature center lobby (on a tile floor in case she pooped.) It took a couple of tries for everyone to get a proper hold on Alice, and after the first unsuccessful attempt, Alice let loose with her enormous "morning" poop. My former co-worker cleaned it up, so she was really getting a taste of what it's like to be in my husband's shoes.

Alice of course did a loud, screaming chitter as we grabbed her and got situated. I always feel really bad--probably something like a mom who's baby is getting a painful shot. But Alice must be getting used to the whole coping thing--she settled down and stopped screaming after a few seconds and let Jeff do his work. It seems like she's figured out it goes faster if she doesn't struggle....

It only takes Jeff a couple of minutes to do the actual grinding. Then we let her stand up on my glove and get her bearings. Thankfully she's very quick to forgive.

I let her hop to her normal work perch where she proceeded to rouse (shake her feathers to get them back in place), droop her wings, and pant. She was hot/stressed from the ordeal, so I let her just chill out (literally--in the air conditioning).

Now she has a nice-looking beak again. I figured it wouldn't be as sharp, but when she bit my forearm right between the bones the next morning when I was leashing her up I changed my mind on that issue. It hurt, and left a nice mark!

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