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Injured eagle has new home in Tenn., near Dollywood

Liz Evans Scolforo
505-5429/@LizScolforoYD
  • An immature bald eagle was found injured in Franklin County Aug. 20, likely from a leg-hold trap.
  • The eagle lost a talon on each foot, making it impossible to release her back into the wild.
  • The American Eagle Foundation has agreed to take in the eagle permanently.

An injured bald eagle rescued by a York County raptor rehabilitator is expected to relocate soon to her new home in the foothills of Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains — just a few wing beats from Dollywood theme park.

"It's super exciting," rehabber Wendy Ebersole Looker said. "The sooner she relocates, the better for her. She's eating like a horse, and I think she could be ready to go within a week or so."

Foot injuries suffered by the roughly 3-month-old bird prohibit her from ever being released into the wild, where she would almost certainly starve to death and be unable to defend herself against other eagles, Looker has said.

Veterinarian Ann Pettigrew,  left, picks up a rescued juvenile female eagle with the assistance of  state-certified wildlife rehabilitator Wendy Ebersole Looker following a surgical procedure at Leader Heights Animal Hospital in Spry, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. Ebersole Looker says that the eagle was found Saturday after having been injured, most likely by a trap. Dawn J. Sagert photo

She will be taken in by the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

There, she could be an exhibit bird, meaning humans could view her during certain times; or a glove bird, which is an exhibit bird that will perch on command and can be taken to off-site educational programs; or she could even become part of AEF's captive breeding program, according to Looker.

"She has a lot of options open," Looker said.

AEF's spokeswoman is on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment. The nonprofit organization protects and cares for bald eagles and other birds of prey through education, re-population, conservation and rehabilitation, according to its website, and partners with Dollywood.

Trapped bald eagle needs permanent home to survive

Celebrity eagle: AEF is the sanctuary where Challenger lives. He is the first bald eagle in history trained to free-fly in sports stadiums, arenas and other venues during the playing of the national anthem, according to AEF, including World Series games, NFL Pro Bowls, NCAA Final Four tournaments and the Daytona 500. Challenger has even made appearances at the White House, and his image is on a Tennessee specialty license plate.

Looker said the local immature eagle will be given a final veterinary check before heading south, where she'll likely be quarantined for 30 days, for both her safety and the safety of other eagles.

"It was pretty fabulous watching her take her first bath today," Looker said Tuesday. "Her wings, although they still have damage on the tips, are clean and bright."

The wounds on the eagle's feet have closed, and she has no infections.

A female juvenile eagle rests its head on the shoulder of veterinarian Ann Pettigrew  following a surgical procedure to remove dead and damaged tissue from the raptor's feet at Leader Heights Animal Hospital in Spry, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. Officials say the eagle, found Saturday, had been injured, most likely by a trap. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"She's starting to vocalize at me, which I think is from annoyance," Looker said, and will no longer eat in front of humans, because she's no longer starving.

"She downed a whole salmon steak and 12 mice (in one sitting), Looker said.

"She is a handful now."

Social media: Within minutes of The York Dispatch posting an article about the eagle's plight — that without a permanent home, she would need to be euthanized — eagle lovers from around the country started sharing the post and alerting sanctuaries to it.

By Friday, AEF announced on Facebook that it would be taking in the eagle permanently.

"It truly was a bird saved by social media," Looker said. "We've never placed any birds out of state that I can recall."

Looker said she believes the eagle will be content in captivity, in part because life in the wild is so difficult and dangerous.

"I honestly don't believe that most birds have any kind of longing to be free, and they certainly don't long to die a slow and miserable death out there," she said. "They're opportunists, and they're very primitive."

The background: Looker took in the eagle Aug. 20 after it had been injured in Franklin County, most likely by an illegal leg-hold trap, she has said.

The eagle lost a talon on each foot, and by the time Looker took possession of her, the eagle was dehydrated and starving to the point she could no longer fly. Her beak and wings were covered in mud from her efforts to free herself from the trap.

Travis Lau, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, has said the commission is investigating to determine if any game laws were violated.

Looker took the eagle to Leader Heights Animal Hospital last week, where Dr. Ann Pettigrew removed dead skin and bone from the eagle's feet. Looker said she'll ask Pettigrew to examine the eagle again before the bird is moved to AEF.

Rehabitat: In addition to being a state-licensed rehabilitator, Looker is a board member of Rehabitat Inc., a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates injured and orphaned birds of prey.

Looker, who founded Rehabitat in 1992, said the organization is trying to buy property in York County where recovering birds and educational birds can be housed.

An immature bald eagle being treated by state-licensed raptor rehabilitator Wendy Ebersole Looker, has taken to scolding Looker when the eagle sees her.
(Photo courtesy of Rehabitat Inc.)

She and Mitzi Eaton of Yorkana are the only two raptor rehabilitators in a seven-county area, Looker said. They receive no pay and have been doing the work for about 30 years.

"There's no one to take up the slack," Looker said.

There are people interested in being raptor rehabilitators, but most are spooked at the idea of having to build huge flight cages in their own yards and having to run to pick up injured birds all over southcentral Pennsylvania, according to Looker, who said the public often erroneously assumes the state or "someone" is footing the bill.

That's why Rehabitat is trying to buy property — so rehabbers in the future will have a place to do their work without shouldering all the flight-cage and other responsibilities.

"It needs to be community-supported," she said. "It's really about the old adage, 'Think globally, act locally.'"

Raptor rehabilitator Wendy Ebersole Looker and Leader Heights Animal Hospital vet Dr. Ann Pettigrew examine the wings of an injured immature bald eagle.
(Photo courtesy of Rehabitat Inc.)

She and Eaton are both about 60 years old, she said, then asked, "How long are we going to be able to do this?"

Reaching out: To donate to Rehabitat, send checks or money orders to Rehabitat Inc., P.O. Box 105, Hanover PA 17331.

To donate to Eaton, call her at (717) 757-4420.

Anyone with information about poaching or other wildlife violations can call the game commission's southcentral dispatch office at (814) 643-1831.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.