Rehabilitated bald eagle released in Beaver County

By Deborah Weisberg
Southwest Correspondent

Pittsburgh — It took nearly a year of rehabilitation – including surgery by an out-of-state veterinarian – but a bald eagle with a broken wing has been successfully returned to the wild, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The juvenile raptor was discovered on Aug. 7, 2015, by two maintenance workers at FirstEnergy Corp. in Beaver County, said Tom Fazi, the wildlife conservation officer who handles education and information out of the Game Commission’s Bolivar office.

“When Wildlife Conservation Officer Matt Kramer responded to their call, he found the eagle on the ground with an obviously injured right wing,” said Fazi, who presumed the bird hit a power line. “It couldn’t fly and probably wouldn’t have lasted long if it hadn’t been found.”

While wearing heavy gloves and securing the bird’s talons, Kramer placed the eagle in a carrier and drove it to the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center just outside Pittsburgh, Fazi said.

“The center staff examined the eagle and found it had multiple fractures of the right wing. They arranged for it to be seen by a vet – Jamie Lindstrom – who specializes in avian medicine at a clinic in North Ridgeville, Ohio, near Cleveland.”

Lindstrom, of Animal Clinic Northview, operated on the bird Aug. 11, using two pins to repair the wing fractures. On Sept. 15, the eagle was transferred to the Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center in Saegertown, Crawford County, which specializes in large birds of prey, Fazi said.

The eagle spent nine months in rehab there.

“This was a difficult fracture of the largest bone in his wing, so he needed strengthening and increased range of motion,” said Carol Holmgren, the Tamarack center executive director. “The concern was his muscles would atrophy.

“We started with three days a week of hands-on physical therapy under sedation at a veterinarian’s office, and then moved to active physical therapy where he was performing his own motions without anesthesia.”

The bird’s progress was slow, and at one point, therapy was stopped. In late November, when he was moved to a larger flight cage where an eagle with a concussion also was rehabbing, he began meeting more goals, for instance flying to perches set at incremental heights up to 20 feet, Holmgren said.

“At that point, we were confident he’d eventually be released.”

The bird soon showed he could bank right and left and make accurate landings, she said.

Because eagles are both hunters and scavengers in the wild, the center allowed the bird to rely on his scavenging skills rather than encouraging him to hunt.

“Eagles are so big and powerful, it would have been dangerous to have allowed him to charge down (on prey) in a small space,” Holmgren said, noting that his release was delayed until spring, when there would be an abundant food supply in the wild.

Although the bird’s right wing droops when it is at rest, in flight, it extends fully and performs as it needs to, said Holmgren. “The bird has agility and was doing some really acrobatic turns. He has all the strength he needs in that wing. So he should do fine.”

The happy ending to this story rests with all of the people who had a hand in the eagle’s recovery, starting with the FirstEnergy employees and including the vet and the rehabilitators, Fazi said.

The two rehab facilities split the cost of caring for the eagle, which totaled about $1,000, not counting rehabilitators’ salaries, or the veterinarian, who charged just $300 for the surgery, Holmgren said.

No Game Commission money was provided, Fazi said. “Rehabilitators do unsung good deeds for commonwealth wildlife every day. This is just a high-profile example of the important work they perform.”

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