I have always been an animal lover. In addition to the cat I had growing up, I had a myriad of caged pets as well – a hamster, fish, parakeets, lizards, and mice. My husband and I now own two dogs and two cats, and we have had to remind each other, and ourselves, on more than one occasion that our house is not large enough to get another pet. I always really enjoy stories about how 3D printing has been able to help our friends in the animal kingdom, from surgical planning and potentially eliminating the need for animal testing to a 3D printed bionic dog tooth and a 3D printed bird leg. Speaking of birds, I recently saw an intriguing video on Facebook about a female American bald eagle who received a new 3D printed prosthetic beak after she was found in Alaska with a missing upper beak.

Veltkamp with Beauty [Image: Glen Hush]

The eagle’s name is Beauty, and she is the subject of a new nonfiction children’s book, aptly titled Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald EagleThe book was co-written by children’s author Deborah Lee Rose and raptor biologist Jane Veltkamp, the director of an Idaho non-profit organization called Birds of Prey NW and the leader of the 3D printed beak engineering team.

Veltkamp told 3DPrint.com, “I am particularly proud of the team I created to synthesize a solution driven by compassion, fueled by science and technology, that yielded a 3D printed solution for a bald eagle named ‘Beauty’. Her book Beauty and the Beak tells her true story meant to inspire children towards collaboration with multiple disciplines, problem solving and raptor conservation.  My coauthor Deborah Lee Rose and I collaborated many hours to tell her story through science.”

The book also comes with a free educational guide, complete with key words, like ‘prosthetic,’ ‘conservation,’ and ‘raptor,’ for young students to study, an explanation of which Common Core Standards the book works for, engaging questions, and links to STEM activities, such as downloading a bald eagle coloring page and making a model of Beauty’s beak out of a paper cup.

The educational guide reads, “BEAUTY AND THE BEAK captures the spirit and courage of this amazing bird and America’s national symbol—whose species was endangered by human activity, only to be restored and thriving because of environmental conservation and human compassion. This book will resonate with stories of other animals endangered or in need, and with stories of humans, from young children to military veterans, in need of prosthetic limbs, who are being given new lives with state-of-the-art devices.”

L-R: Beauty before and after receiving her 3D printed beak

The book follows Beauty from birth, to using her adult beak to capture prey and feed herself, to the time that she lost the beak. Veltkamp was introduced to Beauty several years ago, after poachers in Alaska had illegally shot the majority of her upper beak off. As bald eagles use their beaks for everything from preening (cleaning their feathers) to building nests and catching food, Beauty would never have survived on her own. However, safe from harm in captivity, a bald eagle can live up to 50 years, so rather than euthanizing Beauty, Veltkamp brought her back to Birds of Prey NW and got to work assembling a team to design, manufacture, and attach the 3D printed prosthetic beak.

[Image: David Wolfe via Facebook]

While we’ve seen 3D printed prosthetic beaks for many kinds of birds, from toucanscranes, and penguins to cockatoos, macaws, and pelicans, this is the first 3D printed bald eagle beak. Mechanical engineer Nate Calvin, two dentists, a veterinarian, and several other volunteers made up Beauty’s team, and Calvin got to work designing the beak using CAD software, the measurements from a different female bald eagle’s skull, and dental molds of what was left of Beauty’s beak.

The children’s book also covers the story of the team, which went through several 3D printed prototypes over many months of engineering work, and the three hours of surgery Beauty underwent to attach and adjust the final beak with dental glue.

The triumphant end of the story comes when Beauty, having been returned to her aviary, successfully takes a drink of water with her new beak for the first time. The book is a Junior Library Guild selection, and Beauty’s story has been shared all over the world, being featured in the National Academy of Engineering’s EngineerGirl website, Nat Geo Wild, the National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick children’s magazine, and the National Wildlife Federation’s Green STEM Resource.

Literacy consultant and author Lori Oczkus wrote for the educational guide, “Using animal books like BEAUTY AND THE BEAK in the classroom takes advantage of children’s natural curiosity—and students actually enjoy reading informational text. Now more than ever, our students need powerful strategies and skills such as close reading to help them better understand challenging texts. Close reading is an instructional strategy that involves choosing a rigorous text portion to reread a number of times, for purposes such as asking questions, summarizing, searching for text evidence, gleaning information from text features like captions or headings, or analyzing the author’s tone, intent and impact of using specific words and phrases.”

The guide also includes questions for students about how they can help conservation efforts, how they think the engineering team worked together, what kind of special clothes Veltkamp wears when working with raptors, and what kind of prosthetic body part they would design if given the chance. The more we get kids engaged in these types of STEM activities when they’re young, the better off birds like Beauty will be.

Veltkamp told us, “I am glad ‘Beauty’s’ story has finally caught up with the technology that created her 3D printed prosthetic beak!”

Take a look at this 2008 video from Birds of Prey NW to learn more about Beauty’s story:

Share your thoughts in the 3D Printed Beak forum at 3DPB.com.

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