Molt, the production of a new generation of feathers, is a poorly understood physiological phenomenon in nondomestic birds. Often in large birds like geese, flight is restricted by clipping the primary remiges on 1 wing and flight is restored after the molt when the primaries are replaced. A similar technique would be desirable for use with cranes conditioned for release to the native habitat. However, immature sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) did not appear to replace their primaries annually; therefore, we studied their flight feather molt (from 4 months to 3.5 years of age) and attempted to influence molting. Under natural conditions tail feathers (rectrices) were replaced annually and all secondaries replaced in 2.5-year-old birds. However, replacement of primaries in immature sandhill cranes appears to be a gradual process beginning the 2nd year; about 33% of the original primaries (present at 10 months of age) persisted in the 3.5-year-oId birds. Pulling out the primaries of immature sandhill cranes induces the growth of new primaries, as is true of many other birds. However, the new primaries were incapable of supporting flight, fell out repeatedly, and those that remained were often deformed. Pulling the primaries, under the influence of tranquilizers and anesthetics to relax the feather papillae, also did not induce normal growth of the replacement primaries. Progesterone (including excessively high doses), thyroxine, and follicle stimulating hormone, although effective in inducing feather replacement in domestic poultry, had no effect on crane molt.
Additional publication details
Hormonal treatment and flight feather molt in immature Sandhill Cranes