A bald eagle was recently released back to the wild at Eagle Marsh after months of surgery and physical therapy.
Presumably struck by a vehicle, the eagle was originally found lying on the side of Yohne Road, near Fox Island in February. This is when the Sherriff’s office called Pam Whitacre, Volunteer of Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation Center.
“When we got there, he was lying down, but his head was also on the ground, and his eyes were closed. He looked dead. Fortunately, when we approached it, we were very relieved to see him lift his head. It took two people to pick him up and secure his talons and get him into the car,” Whitacre commented.
After a trip to the ICU, the veterinarian took radiographs to confirm that the bird’s humerus wing bone was broken. Since the bird seemed to be in good health and at a healthy weight, Soarin’ Hawk’s staff and the veterinarian decided the best chance for the bird to return to the wild would be to perform orthopedic surgery on the bird. After the successful surgery, much labor and time intensive physical therapy was performed. Three times a week for 3 months, the eagle, under anesthesia, would have its 7-foot wing span carefully extended to ensure both wings’ full function.
“Some birds are easier to work with, while others, like this one was a little more aggressive and didn’t like to be handled. For the bird’s and our volunteer’s safety, it took many people to position the bird when working with it because of the bird’s size and weight,” Whitacre reminisced the challenges with this rehabilitation.
After some tethered test flights, on Thursday, June 14 the eagle was finally ready to be released back to the wild. At Eagle Marsh, surrounded by Soarin’ Hawk’s volunteers and over 50 members of the public, the eagle was brought out in a large pet carrier. Within a split second of opening the top of the cage and removing the bird’s blinding hood, the eagle took flight. The crowd cheered as the eagle made a lap in the distance over the preserved marshlands.
Once endangered, according to Whitacre, there are now many bald eagle nests in northeast Indiana. For Soarin’ Hawk an eagle is rare, as they generally rehabilitate other birds of prey, such as owls, falcons and of course, hawks. Soarin’ Hawk takes in about 200 injured birds each year and with the assistance of volunteer veterinary services as well as the art of falconry, and depending on the severity of the injury, they release about 50% back into to the wild. While each bird’s injury or sickness comes with its own challenges, the most common ailments are a broken wing or a damaged eye.
Reaching over 12,000 participants last year, Soarin’ Hawk also holds educational programs and presentations with live birds to inform the public about why birds of prey are important.
“At our education programs, we tell our guests that the two top things that people can do to help birds of prey is to stop using pesticides, because it thins egg shells. And to stop littering. Because when people litter on the side of the road, it attracts rodents. Then, birds of prey are attracted to the road and are hit by cars. Which was likely the case with this eagle.”
Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehab is a not for profit service established in 1996 to serve northeast Indiana’s injured or orphaned birds of prey. If you see an injured bird of prey, they encourage you to call 260-241-0134. If you would like to learn more about their efforts or educational programs, please visit: www.soarinhawk.org