Bald Eagle Gets 3D Printed Beak Prosthesis

Image: Jane Fink Cantwell/Birds of Prey Northwest.

This is the story of Beauty and her 3D printed prosthetic beak.

Beauty is an American bald eagle that got shot in the head by a poacher and consequently lost the top half of her beak.

Now, if you are a bald eagle, losing half of your beak is pretty much a death sentence – you can neither feed nor groom yourself. (Imagine eating with a single chopstick or chewing with one jaw.)

So it was no surprise that when the eagle was found in 2005 near a landfill in Alaska, it was emaciated despite being surrounded by abundance of food.

The eagle was relocated to Birds of Prey Northwest, a nonprofit organisation located near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. There, she was nursed back to health by a small army of volunteers. At first, the eagle was force-fed liquified food through a tube daily. Later, after her health improved, the eagle resumed eating solid food that was fed to her using forceps. During this recovery time, it was hoped her beak would grow back, but the bone was too badly damaged: Beauty would never recover.

At this point the expert opinion was that the bird ought to be euthanized. Luckily, mechanical engineer Nate Calvin heard about the bird’s plight and came up with an ingenious plan to help.

Mr Calvin, a founder of the Boise-based Kinetic Engineering Group, made a mold of Beauty’s shattered upper mandible, laser-scanned it, fine-tuned it in a 3D modeling program, and created a prosthetic beak from a nylon-based polymer. He then recruited his personal dentist to implant a titanium mount fitted onto the remaining part of Beauty’s beak which basically serves the function of a dental implant as it holds the prosthetic beak in place.

Thanks to her new 3D printed beak today Beauty is able to eat, drink and groom entirely on her own. Unfortunately, the beak is not fixed so securely as to return the eagle in the wild but Beauty seems to thrive in her new home.

Beauty and the Beak by Keith Bubach

This video was shot and edited by Keith Bubach for the television programme, Evening Magazine (KING-TV, Seattle). It won the 2008 Emmy award.

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