Bald eagle found in Michigan beat West Nile Virus

Pickford, Mich. (AP) – A young bald eagle, suffering from West
Nile Virus, was captured in August 2002 from the parking lot of a
car dealership in Pickford.

With a lot of help, the nearly dead eagle survived, learned to
fly again, was released and flew off to make history.

“Patty,”as she became known, taught biologists and
rehabilitators that eagles and other birds of prey can recover from
West Nile Virus, survive when released to the wild and produce
offspring.

“Patty turned out to be a wonderful success story,” said Marge
Gibson, executive director of the Raptor Education Group Inc.

After Patty was captured in Pickford in 2002, she was sent by
local animal rehabilitator Ann Trissell to the Raptor Education
Group for special care and testing, which confirmed she had West
Nile Virus.

This virus effects birds much like encephalitis does humans. It
causes a brain anomaly and weakness in the limbs, which made it
difficult for Patty to walk without falling over or to fly
well.

Patty could not feed herself, so Gibson has placed her under the
care of a foster parent – a 14-year-old bald eagle which fed Patty.
The Pickford eagle quickly went from six pounds and two ounces to
11 pounds in a month.

Patty spent a year hunting and socializing with a number of bald
eagles in a 110 foot long building that is 28 foot tall at the
Raptor Education Group.

Patty became the most important research bird in the country, as
far as West Nile Virus is concerned. In the fall of 2003, the
two-year-old eagle was released near a wintering group of bald
eagles which acted as her support group.

Concern for their own young keeps eagles from “adopting” other
young birds in spring and summer. But, after a winter group forms
and a laid-back attitude permeates the adults, the older birds help
younger birds through the winter, Gibson added.

Patty was outfitted with a satellite tracking device which
allowed researchers to track her progress for three years. Every
four hours, the satellite transmitted Patty’s location to a
computer. This satellite tracking system – accurate to within two
miles – followed Patty wherever she traveled.

Patty also had a second telemetry transmitter attached. Staff
used the satellite information to get her location to within a
couple miles, then used the short-range tracking telemetry to find
her and observe her activities.

“Her first two years, she resided in Escanaba,” Gibson said.
“She would roost in a large tree on a small island off the shore of
Escanaba Bay. She got up early, very early in the morning and would
fly to shore and I assume begin fishing.”

One morning in early spring the 4-year-old eagle flew to the
northwest to reside near Stephenson and Wilson in the western Upper
Peninsula. By April 2005, she stopped moving.

“We were concerned that something had happened to her and sent
out people to find what we thought was a body,” Gibson said. “The
search party found her in a nest about nine miles to the southwest
of Wilson. She was not in full adult plumage and was easy to spot
and follow.”

What seemed like her inactivity was her incubating two eggs. The
female does most of the daytime nest sitting and when she leaves to
do some hygiene and exercise briefly she would not go far, Gibson
added.

“Because the satellite was taking readings every four hours,
even if she was off the nest for an hour a day we would not have
picked it up unless it was at least four hours,” Gibson said.

Patty and her mate had two youngsters that first year.

“This was amazing because … at that point, all the statistics
told us birds that a bird recovered from WNV would never
reproduce,” Gibson said. “Your little lady Patty and our hard
working staff at REGI showed the world that not only could she
survive the WNV virus but could indeed mate and produce offspring.
She did this all in the spring of her fourth year, which is very
early for bald eagles to mate. Apparently, Patty was a very special
bird even to another male eagle.”

“We think – but have no hard proof – that she took up with a
male that had lost his mate in some way. The nest she used was a
traditional nest site and had been used in the past. The fact that
they raised two youngsters as her first year as a mom would also
point to someone in that pair having experience as a parent.”

The battery on Patty’s transmitter quit working soon after her
family was observed so Gibson could not gather any more additional
information.

“I like to think Patty is out there still with her ‘older man’
having a wonderful life,” Gibson concluded.

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