Earlier this month, the Center had two very special releases, as two mature Bald Eagles returned to the wild after months of care and treatment. While all releases are happy successes, these two were particularly meaningful for the veterinary staff, representing months of dedication, skill, and emotional investment to get these birds back to the wild.
Bald Eagle #23-0413 was released on October 16 at Chippokes State Park; the bird was admitted at the end of March 2023, with many significant wounds and abrasions, along with a subclinical level of lead toxicosis. According to LVT intern Jenn, this eagle “came into the hospital on the second day of my internship, so I experienced all of my first eagle skills -- if not skills in general -- with him, including intubating him that day! Being that he was the first eagle I learned to grab, I think it was especially interesting for me to experience him becoming more and more feisty as he began to heal and feel better, almost as if he gradually trained me over time to grab and catch any difficult eagle. I went from loving the experience of being able to catch him for treatments to eventually basically dreading any time I had to be the one to pick him up (if not attempting to avoid him altogether)!”
Jenn, along with 60 other eagle fans, was able to attend the release this week -- and to celebrate this bird’s return to the wild after nearly seven months of treatment.
On October 18, Bald Eagle #22-3464 was released in Chesapeake, right in the same area where she was found injured in October 2022. The eagle had injuries to her left wing and tested positive for lead toxicosis; it's possible that the lead caused her to become uncoordinated, predisposing her to be hit by a vehicle. The veterinary team gave the eagle a guarded prognosis; the wounds on the bird's left wing were already necrotic, and were close to the joint – which could easily cause long-term limitations on her flight.
Throughout the winter, the eagle experienced many setbacks in treatment; there were multiple complications with her wing injury, which resulted in more than a dozen surgeries. By spring 2023, the wounds had mostly healed, and the eagle was living in an outdoor flight enclosure, where she had to slowly rebuild strength and muscle in her atrophied wing.
The eagle had trouble regaining flight and often remained grounded in her large flight enclosure. In the early summer, the rehabilitation team started a regimen of physical therapy on the eagle's wing. Rehabilitation supervisor Alex structured the physical therapy treatments and taught the rest of the team how to assess the eagle, what movements to use, and how long to extend the therapy sessions. According to Alex, “The first few sessions when we extended the eagle’s wing, you could feel the tension and how the tendon in the wing shook. The eagle’s wing did not extend for more than three seconds without causing discomfort, It was clearly very painful for the eagle even if we limited our PT sessions to 15 minutes. But after about a month of PT, the results were visible and the vets noticed that something was working!”
Rehab intern Grace noted, “It felt like the physical therapy went on for a long time – all with the hope that the eagle would fly. I remember after a couple of months of therapy and exercise, I saw #22-3464 fly her first full pass in her enclosure and it actually brought tears to my eyes. I had only ever seen this eagle grounded in the flight pen, and seeing her take off was amazing and is something I know I’ll never forget.”
By August, the rehabilitation team was able to stop physical therapy and restart their regular exercise regimen in the flight pen, and the staff continued to see slow but steady improvements during the next two months. Rehabilitation team lead Mac reflects on the difference seen in the eagle by early fall: “I exercised her on September 19 and I was almost blown away by how much better she looked. She flew 12 passes and wasn’t even tired by the end, and she was able to maintain height on every single pass! By October 4, I exercised her again and deemed her release-ready. Some birds just need time exercising to build up their performance, but #22-3464 needed a lot of hands-on care and time-consuming treatment for a big portion of her time with us – seeing her fly so well and able to get released just makes all of the hard work and stressful moments worth it!"
About 130 eagle fans were able to join the Center team at this eagle release – 357 days after #22-3464 was brought to the Center for treatment.
Eagle Releases in the News