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HERE, EAGLES DARE

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Edward Clark with The Wildlife Center of Virginia prepares to launch the eagle.
SoVaNow.com / November 19, 2020


Several months ago, an ailing bald eagle was found in a horse pasture, unable or unwilling to fly. After being rehabilitated for several months, she was released Friday at the Staunton River Battlefield State Park, not far from where she was found.

“The bald eagle had some degree of lead poisoning and no significant injuries,” said Edward Clark, president and co-founder of The Wildlife Center of Virginia.

As Clark removed the bald eagle from the carrier in the back of his vehicle, he was able to tell the bird was about four years old. Also, he could tell the eagle was a female due to the large curve of the beak and huge talons on the feet.

Reed Stanley, district resource specialist for Virginia State Parks, assisted Clark as he held the magnificent bird by removing the rufter (hood) from the bald eagle’s head. The purpose of a hood is to calm the bird. These birds are so visually oriented, they are not fearful of what they cannot see. Hoods protect the bird and allow ease of control of situations that otherwise could prove startling.

After waiting a few minutes to allow the bald eagle to adjust her eyes to the sunlight and surroundings, Clark bent down to get an upward motion as he launched the eagle into flight. The bald eagle completed a fly-by circle overhead before heading off into the forest. The young eagle will not be ready to mate or nest until next year.

The event was celebrated with a few members of Virginia State Parks.

“This was the closest I’ve ever been to a bald eagle,” said Stanley.

It was the second bald eagle release in at least 20 years, said Tim Vest, who added this is the neatest part of his job, but it doesn’t happen frequently. Vest is the district manager for state parks in Southern Virginia.

The bald eagle was first taken to The Southwest Wildlife Center in Roanoke. It was there they found traces of lead poisoning and stabilized the animal’s health. Then the eagle was transported to The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro for recovery.

“It’s possible the bald eagle also suffered from soft tissue injuries which are hard to detect,” said Clark.

During recovery, the bird of prey received food and plenty of rest. Once well and showing signs of readiness to fly, she was moved to a flight cage. The cage is 85 feet long, 16 feet wide, and 20 feet tall, allowing plenty of room for the massive bird to regain its strength.

When the bald eagle became really active, the Wildlife Center tested out new telemetry equipment for tracking birds. The new device — the size of your index finger and extremely lightweight — is attached to the bird’s feathers. After a year, when the bird molts its feathers, the device falls off and is recovered for future use. The previous device was about the size of a deck of cards.

Although this eagle was not tagged upon her release, she was used “as a guinea pig, if you will, for testing the new tracking device” before she left their care, said Clark.

Currently, there are 20 eagles that carry a transmitter. These devices download the bird’s location and record the air temperature approximately every 48 hours.

Millions of birds across the United States, including bald eagles, are poisoned by lead every year, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Indeed, many are dying from lead bullets — but not because they’re being shot.

“It is very common for 70 percent of bald eagles to have lead in their bloodstream from scouring remains in the fields left from hunters,” said Clark.

Hunters use lead bullets to kill deer and other animals. Although the hunters aren’t targeting eagles, the birds are still indirectly affected when they consume carrion shot with those bullets. Once the toxic lead is absorbed, the lead poisoning can cause a lack of judgment and impair the ability of birds to walk or fly, resulting in seizures, accidents and death.

Depending on the severity of the poisoning, some eagles survive after veterinarians use chelation therapy, injecting the birds with a drug that binds the toxins in their bloodstream and allows it to be removed from their bodies. Unfortunately, some birds are in too much pain, resulting in them having to be put to sleep. Others still die despite treatment efforts.

The Wildlife Center of Virginia celebrated last week their 38th year of rescuing, rehabilitating, and returning injured animals back into their natural habitats. They have treated over 85,000 animals and hosted educational programs to millions of people. Critter cameras provide videos of animals being nursed and cared for, and are available for viewing on their website.

For more information on bald eagles visit https://www.wildlifecenter.org/critter-corner/success-stories and for more information about The Wildlife Center of Virginia visit https://www.wildlifecenter.org/

The Staunton River Battlefield State Park is located at 1035 Fort Hill Trail, Randolph. For more information on visiting: 434-454-4312 or https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/staunton-river-battlefield



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