Injured eagle cleared for takeoff to Tennessee
The juvenile bald eagle examined Wednesday morning at Leader Heights Animal Hospital was a very different animal than the injured bird brought to the center for treatment Aug. 24 by state-licensed raptor rehabilitator Wendy Ebersole Looker.
It's the same bird but with a decidedly more intense, eagle-like demeanor — ready to stare down gawking humans and perhaps even take a chunk out of the nearest hand or arm. Suffice it to say wild eagles have little patience with people.
"She's just mad," said Looker, clad in thick leather gloves as she held tightly to the eagle's legs and secured the peeved raptor on an exam table.
As the eagle's feet clenched and unclenched, Looker added, "She's very grabby."
Eagle talons can easily pierce flesh.
During her vet visit two weeks ago, the eagle was still weak from having been dehydrated and emaciated. It's believed she was caught in a leg-hold trap, but Looker said she doesn't know for how long.
Eventually, the exhausted eagle apparently freed herself from the trap — losing parts of a toe on each foot — and walked to the yard of a Franklin County woman who alerted Looker on Aug. 20.
Attitude adjustment: Two weeks ago, the 3-month-old eagle didn't fight when Looker removed her from a large animal carrier to be treated by Dr. Ann Pettigrew. She even rested her head on Pettigrew's shoulder after treatment, although in fairness it should be noted the bird was still groggy from anesthesia.
It was a different story on Wednesday.
Looker asked everyone to leave the exam room while she wrestled the raptor out of its transport carrier and onto the exam table, then used cloth to cover the bird's eyes, which helped to keep her calm.
Injured bald eagle returns to veterinarian for follow-up.
"She ate seven fish last night," Looker said. The eagle has gained quite a bit of weight but still needs to put on more, according to the rehabber. And she can be demanding.
"She hears me coming, and she's yelling for food, (which is) gone in no time," Looker said of feeding time in the eagle's recovery cage.
On the road: The eagle was getting her final checkup before leaving for her new home with the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
At 5 a.m. Thursday, the eagle will leave Looker's Hanover-area home, bound for Tennessee and chauffeured by Rehabitat Inc. volunteer Jessica Prather, Looker said.
Once they arrive, the eagle will be placed in quarantine, then eventually moved to a 150-foot flight cage, according to Looker. AEF staff will provide the eagle with the remaining rehabilitation she needs, Looker said.
After examining the bird's feet on Wednesday, Pettigrew said she believes AEF veterinarians will likely decide to amputate at least portions of the eagle's two maimed toes. She has permanently lost one talon on each foot.
After the eagle is fully rehabbed, AEF staff will have to decide her future. 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.
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 it partners with Dollywood.
Free bird? Looker also said there's a chance AEF might choose to release the eagle back into the wild, perhaps monitored by a satellite tracking device so AEF could intervene if she fails to thrive.
It's not possible to release her in Pennsylvania because she most likely wouldn't survive being chased by older eagles during breeding season and having to compete with raptors and other predators for food. There are about 300 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Pennsylvania, Looker said.
Tennessee's eagle population is much lower, and that state has a more supportive habitat, the rehabilitator said. Still, Looker said, the eagle could remain in captivity with AEF and have a good life.
"I think she'll adapt really well in captivity," Looker predicted. "Through it all, she's been feisty and hungry ... and she's tolerated the stress as well as a (wild) bird can."
It takes a village: Looker said while many people have read about the eagle and commented about it on social media, it hasn't translated into donations for Rehabitat Inc. In addition to being a state-licensed rehabilitator, Looker founded Rehabitat in 1992 and is a board member of the nonprofit, which rehabilitates injured and orphaned birds of prey.
"There's lots of interest in watching and cheering on (injured eagles)," she said, but added that people need to understand there's a great deal of expense in saving raptors.
"They're not my birds," Looker said. "They belong to everybody."
Rehabitat is trying to buy property in York County where recovering birds and unreleasable educational birds can be housed. It will take time and money to accomplish that, according to Looker, but it's essential, as she said she likely won't be able to rehabilitate any more eagles in the modest facilities she has at her home.
"It's the only way to keep rehabilitation in central Pennsylvania in years to come," she said. "This could be, in fact, the last time I touch an eagle."
How to help: To donate to Rehabitat, send checks or money orders to Rehabitat Inc., P.O. Box 105, Hanover PA 17331.
Anyone with information about poaching or other wildlife violations can call the Pennsylvania Game Commission's southcentral dispatch office at (814) 643-1831.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.
FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP SUPPORT WILDLIFE:
Wendy Ebersole Looker, a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator and board member of Rehabitat Inc., gave her top five things that people can do to help wildlife thrive.
- "The No. 1 thing people can do for wildlife ... is to follow all game laws," she said. By following state game commission rules and regulations, hunters, trappers, hikers and others who venture into wild places are less likely to do harm.
- Don't use rat or rodent poisons. Predators — including raptors, reptiles and mammals — can die from eating mice, rats and other rodents that have consumed poison.
- Hunters should either avoid using lead shot or adequately bury gut piles with lead shot in them, she said. That's because raptors and other predators and scavengers will eat the gut piles and suffer lead poisoning.
"Within 48 hours, they're blind," Looker said, and an agonizing death follows. Tests of apparently healthy migrating eagles have shown a troublesome level of lead in many of them, she said, and cases of raptor lead poisonings spike during deer season.
"The only answer is to eliminate the lead in all ammunition," she said, which she acknowledged would be more expensive for hunters and target shooters.
- Don't let cats outside. Many birds and other animals are injured by domestic cats, which have no place in the wild, Looker said. Of those simply injured by cats, most end up dying of staph infections, she said.
- Donate to organizations that rehabilitate and release injured wild animals, such as Rehabitat Inc., she said.
People who see injured birds of prey should try to throw a towel over them and get them into a cardboard box, experts say.
Looker urged people not to give food or water to injured birds, because it can actually cause them more harm. Also, she said, don't put injured birds in wire cages.
Also, don't touch fledging birds without first calling a rehabilitator or the game commission for advice, Looker said. Many fledglings are fine on the ground and are still being supported by their parents, she said.