A few years ago, an Alaskan Bald Eagle was shot in the face, disfiguring her and obliterating the upper half of her beak. Rescue workers tried to rehabilitate the bird, whom they named Beauty, in hopes that her beak would grow back. It did not. Beaks are essential for preening feathers and feeding, and Beauty’s future was looking grim. Lucky for Beauty, she was taken under the care of Idaho raptor specialist Jane Cantwell, who spoke of Beauty’s case during an educational talk she was giving. In the audience happened to be mechanical engineer Nate Calvin, who was moved by the story and inspired to help. In the first attempt to create a prosthetic beak, Calvin made a mold of the missing upper beak, laser-scanned it, fine-tuned it in a 3D modeling program, and created the prosthesis of a nylon-based polymer.

The procedure to implant the prosthesis is likened to fitting a patient with dentures, and there was a dentist on-hand to help. They started by placing a metal mount on Beauty’s existing beak, much like how a dentist would fit a post for a crown to anchor. Then the prosthetic was fitted on, and amazingly Beauty was able to preen and drink water that night.

This story is not exactly breaking news, but it is definitely an unlikely and inspiring tale of engineering to the rescue!

Here is a video profiling the case:

You can also learn more on Cantwell’s site, as well as Calvin’s.


2013 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

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