WILDLIFE CENTER OF VIRGINIA RELEASES BALD EAGLE AT WESTOVER PLANTATION ON WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22

The Wildlife Center of Virginia, the nation's leading teaching and research hospital for native wildlife, released a Bald Eagle on Wednesday, October 22 at 1:30 p.m. at Westover Plantation, on the James River in Charles City County. The eagle was released by Ed Clark, President and Co-Founder of the Wildlife Center. Joining Clark for the release were Dr. Elizabeth Daut, DVM, Wildlife Center Veterinary Fellow, and several veterinary students now working at the Center. This young Bald Eagle [hatched spring 2008] was admitted on June 17 from Rockingham County. On admission, the bird weighed nearly 10 pounds and, based on its large size, is likely a female. The bird was found on the ground on Merck Company property near Elkton [Merck employees had been watching this eagle and its parents since it hatched and had nicknamed it "Jerry"]. The eagle was captured by biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and brought to the Wildlife Center. At admission, the eagle was given a complete diagnostic examination, including radiographs, blood tests, and a test for exposure to lead [which was negative]. The bird had fractured clavicle and coracoid bones and had a charred area of feathers and skin on the tip of its right wing. The bird also had blood coming from its trachea. Based on the clinical signs and the fresh nature of the wounds, Center vets surmise that the eagle came into contact with a power line or another form of electrical wiring and broke its bones when it hit the ground. On July 2, the eagle stopped eating and processing food - a condition called crop stasis. Center veterinary staff used a fluoroscope and found no contractions within the crop or gastrointestinal tract - likely a result of the electric shock. However, the bird responded to treatment. The eagle was kept in a confined space for four weeks in order for the fractured bones to heal without excessive movement. After the bones were set, the bird was moved through a series of progressively larger pens, to allow for increased endurance and muscle-building. On July 21, the eagle was placed in a large flight pen, where a slight droop in the left wing was observed. Follow-up radiographs indicated slight changes to the left humerus, likely caused by the electrical shock. This droop is intermittent and does not show improvement with pain medication, suggesting that the droop is caused by a change in the bones, muscles and tendons but is not painful. This change in the wing seems unlikely to interfere with success in the wild, as the bird maneuvers perfectly in the Center's eagle flight pens. As such, it is ready for return to the wild. In consultation with other Bald Eagle experts in Virginia, and given that it is late October, Center staff made the determination not to return this eagle to its nesting area. At this point in its development, the eagle's parents would no longer care for the young eagle and might regard it as an intruder. It is also not clear if the Elkton site would be an appropriate over-winter site for the young bird. The eagle was instead taken to Westover, across the James River from a National Wildlife Refuge, with the expectation that she would find company in other young eagles in the area. The 4,200-acre refuge, created in 1991, hosts one of the largest eagle roosts on the East Coast. The release, according to Clark, was a "spectacular success". Once released, the eagle circled over land a few times, and, within a few minutes, met up with first one, and then a second, juvenile eagle. It is estimated that the Bald Eagle population of North America numbered about half a million before European settlement. With the loss of habitat, shooting, and the effects of DDT and other pesticides, the U.S. eagle population plummeted. In 1977, there were fewer than 50 Bald Eagle nests in Virginia. Today, the Bald Eagle population in Virginia is on the rebound. There are now more than 500 active Bald Eagle nests in the Commonwealth. Every year, about 2,500 animals - ranging from Bald Eagles to opossums to chipmunks - are brought to the Wildlife Center for care. "The goal of the Center is to restore our patients to health and return as many as possible to the wild," Clark said. "At the Wildlife Center, we treat to release." Since its founding in 1982, the nonprofit Center has cared for more than 50,000 wild animals, representing 200 species of native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The Center's public education programs share insights gained through the care of injured and orphaned wildlife, in hopes of reducing human damage to wildlife. The Center trains veterinary and conservation professionals from all over the world and is actively involved in comprehensive wildlife health studies and the surveillance of emerging diseases. Additional information about the Wildlife Center is available at www.wildlifecenter.org. The Bald Eagle was released on the grounds of Westover Plantation [c. 1730] on the north shore of the James River. Additional information about Westover Plantation is available at www.jamesriverplantations.org/Westover.html. Ed Clark Report on Eagle Release