Bald Eaglet 23-2031

Admission Date: 
June 23, 2023
Location of Rescue: 
Little Neck in Virginia Beach, VA
Cause of Admission / Condition: 
Unable to fly and experiencing respiratory distress
Died in care
Patient Status: 
Patient Archive

On June 22, Reese Lukei with the Center for Conservation Biology rescued a juvenile Bald Eagle that had just fledged from its nest in the Little Neck area of Virginia Beach. The bird had never left its nest before, but it had many broken tail feathers. When it leaped from its nest, it did not fly, and instead, just floated to the ground. Lukei recounts that it could not get more than two feet off the ground and was experiencing respiratory distress, so he picked up the bird and took it to permitted wildlife rehabilitator Lisa Barlow before it was transferred to the Wildlife Center of Virginia the next day. 


Veterinary intern Dr. Marit examined this eagle upon admission and found that it was bright and alert, as well as mildly dehydrated. There were no significant wounds or fractures, but the eagle had many broken and tattered tail feathers.  The tail feathers present all had stress bars, which appear as straight lines across the feather; these typically indicate some sort of issue (nutritional issues, disease, or environment) at the time of feather growth and development. The bird also had two small abrasions on the tip of its left wing and a small hard mass on the left side of its beak. The eagle was given fluids and started on prophylactic anti-fungal medications. The veterinary team continued to monitor the eagle’s respiratory rate and wounds in the days following admission, though no significant issues were noted.

The eaglet moved to a small outdoor enclosure during an initial quarantine period before the rehabilitation team moved the young eagle to the lofted area of one of the Center’s largest flight enclosures. From this raptor tower area, the eagle was able to see and hear three other young hatch-year eaglets. After the bird’s round of medications was complete on July 19, the staff opened the doors of the tower and allowed the bird access to the main flight area with the other eaglets.

This juvenile Bald eagle is the offspring of an adult male Bald Eagle who was a former patient at the Wildlife Center. Bald Eagle #21-0013 was a patient in January 2021; at the bird’s release, Lukei banded the eagle as “SB”. SB went on to mate and reproduce in Virginia Beach that same year; this young Bald Eaglet is one of three chicks that SB produced in 2023.

Your donation will help provide veterinary care to this injured Bald Eagle ... and more than 3,700 other wild animals at the Center this year. Thank you! 


October 11, 2023

In early September, several other Bald Eagle patients joined Bald Eaglet #23-2031 in the A3 enclosure. On September 18, Bald Eaglet #23-2031 collided with one of these eagles during an exercise session and fell to the ground. Staff quickly brought the eaglet inside the hospital for an exam and discovered that the collision fractured the bird's left femur. The veterinary team anesthetized the eaglet and surgically repaired the fracture later that day, and started the bird on a combination of anti-inflammatories, pain medication, and ice-pack therapy.

Sadly, the eaglet's health started to decline on September 25. Vet staff immediately placed an IV catheter and administered antibiotics, but despite their best efforts, the eaglet was found deceased later that day. The cause of death was likely due to surgery-related complications combined with the young bird's already poor condition.

There were a number of signs that indicated this eagle had generally poor health -- it was late to leave the nest, much smaller than usual for an eagle, and its feathers were in poor condition, with no known cause. That, combined with how easily the bird's leg fractured, suggests that the eagle would likely not have thrived in the wild.

September 14, 2023

During the past month, Bald Eagle #23-2031 has continued its rehabilitation in the Center's A3 enclosure. By early August, the bird's injuries had all healed, though its tail feathers were still tattered and in poor condition. On August 15, rehab staff began exercising the bird to help it build up flight strength and stamina.

Initially, the young eagle struggled during daily exercise sessions. The rehab team reported that its "stamina was poor and needs a lot of improvement" and that the eagle could "only do a few passes and barely gets off of the ground." Throughout the month, however, the eagle's flight steadily improved. By the beginning of September, the eagle was able to gain lift and maintain height for more passes. Its flight was slightly less effortful, and the rehab team increased its daily exercise regimen to 5-10 passes.

Bald Eagle #23-2031 is currently the only eagle in the A3 enclosure; the other three eagles it shared the A3 enclosure with [Bald Eaglet #23-0621Bald Eagle #23-0710, & Bald Eagle #23-1713] have all been released. The rehab team will continue to evaluate this eagle's stamina and form during flight conditioning, with the hope of seeing continued improvement in its flight despite the damaged tail feathers.

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