Medicine Service Wildlife

Young bald eagle returns to the sky

Eagle returns to the sky after successful treatment at the Swanson Wildlife Health Clinic

eagleA young female bald eagle found bleeding on the side of the road near Corning, NY, returned to the wild on Friday, October 7, three weeks after treatment at Cornell University’s Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Clinic. The bird was likely down for some time before a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officer found her and took her to the clinic, according to the clinic’s Director, Dr. George Kollias.

“She is an immature bird born this year, and they can be kind of clumsy,” said Kollias. “She was found underweight and in poor body condition. Sick or injured eagles will often scavenge road-kill, putting themselves at greater risk for parasite infection and trauma from traffic. I’ve seen several of these cases; if she did get hit by a car, she was relatively lucky.”

Dr. Emi Knafo, zoo and wildlife resident at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine who first handled the case, described the young bird’s resilience after trauma.

“She came in dazed and bleeding from her mouth and ear,” said Knafo. “We ran a series of tests to evaluate her condition. Radiographs and blood work looked normal, though she had a lot of intestinal parasites. She was big, strong, and relatively healthy, and she quickly regained alertness and started eating on her own in the first couple days.”

Five days after her arrival, the Cornell clinicians transferred the increasingly restless eagle to local wildlife rehabilitator Cynthia Page, owner of Page Wildlife Center in Manlius, NY.

“They grow very active when they’re confined,” said Kollias. “We someday hope to add a flight cage to our facilities so we can continue to treat birds while giving them enough room to move and practice flying. For now we try to get them out to rehab as soon as possible. Our resident Dr. Brendon Noonan cared for the bird until she was ready for rehab.”

Page mixed deworming medicine with the bird’s food and monitored her recovery in the facility’s 12ft x 36ft flight cage, where the eagle spent the last two and a half weeks rebuilding her abilities to take off, land, maneuver, and hunt.

Left to right: Michael Allen, Dr. George Kollias (sunglasses), DEC bird-bander, Cynthia Page (dark blue holding camera), two onlookers, Dr. Emi Knafo (brown, sunglasses), Post-Standard photographer

On the date of release a small team of wildlife workers from Cornell and the DEC converged outside the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. Page carefully helped the bird out of her car, aided by the expert hands of retired DEC wildlife technician Michael Allen. While the eagle wore a leather hood to keep her calm and prevent her from biting, a DEC official banded her legs so that she could be identified in the future.

Followed by a group of captivated onlookers, they brought the bird to a grassy field bordering woods and marshlands full of grazing waterfowl. Page lowered the eagle to the ground to give her a chance to orient herself. Knafo removed the hood, and Page released her grip and stepped back.

birddThe eagle’s eyes dilated as she surged forward. Stumbling at first but with increasing drive she ran in a semicircle, stretched her wings, and began to rise.

Several powerful flaps later, her 8-foot wingspan shadowed the marsh, and the eagle returned to the sky. A chorus of honking alarms heralded her release as startled waterfowl scattered at the sight of the soaring predator. The eagle circled to land on a sturdy tree branch, where she ruffled her brown feathers and began to preen.

“It’s a remarkable feeling to watch a release and to know you helped make it possible,” said Kollias. “This year we’ve had more bald eagles at the clinic than ever before, about eight since last September. Maybe more people know what we do at the Clinic and bring in cases; maybe it’s because the population is rising.”

Once at the brink of extinction, the recovery of America’s iconic bird represents one of wildlife conservation’s greatest success stories. In 1975, officials found only two bald eagles in the entire state after hunting, pesticides, and deforestation devastated the population. Last Friday the young eagle treated at Cornell joined a growing population of 570+ estimated individuals across New York.

For more pictures, check out our Facebook Album of the release.

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