Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
On September 28th, 2002 the door to a large animal carrier was opened near the Carbon River just west of Mt. Rainier National Park. The eagle that was contained within took two quick hops and launched himself into the air. He quickly gained both speed and altitude, putting distance between himself and the 5 human spectators that watched in breathless silence.
See the release of Eagle 02-2587 that took place on September 28th, 2002.
Prior to his arrival at the PAWS Wildlife Center, bald eagle 02-2587 had spent a few days in the care of a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) agent. The bird had been captured after he was found weak, disoriented, and unable to fly in a field near Wilkeson, WA. An initial examination performed by a local veterinary hospital had uncovered no external injuries, but radiographs taken during the exam had revealed several fractures that were attributed to old gunshot wounds. Arrangements were made to transport the bird to PAWS and he was admitted to the wildlife center on July 6th.
When the eagle arrived at PAWS, he was given a full physical examination and additional radiographs were taken. The radiographs painted a fairly grim picture for the bird. He had suffered a fractured right humerus and tibiotarsus (one of the bones of the leg), in addition to several fractured ribs.
This barred owl was brought to the PAWS Wildlife Center after he was found stunned from unknown causes.
Although he was extremely weak and uncoordinated, the eagle before us was in good body condition and had obviously been eating quite well before he was admitted to the center. He hadn't been with the WDFW agent long enough to fatten up, and therefore must have been providing for himself up until the point at which he was found on the ground. With this information in mind, the veterinary staff looked for other potential causes for the bird's weakened state.
The answer was found in the bright flecks of metal that were visible in the eagle's radiographs. A blood sample was tested and found to contain toxic levels of lead. Apparently, the fragments that were left behind by the bullets that had passed through the eagle's body were leaching lead into his bloodstream. A course of treatment was prescribed to lower the blood lead level and the bird slowly regained his strength and alertness. Given the poor alignment of his healed humeral fracture, it was still difficult to accept that lead poisoning was the only factor that had contributed to the eagle's recent grounding. With an activity as precise and demanding as flight, even minor changes in a bird's wing structure may render it flightless. As the eagle completed his course of treatment and was placed into a large flight pen, however, he removed any lingering doubts that we had about his abilities.
This brown pelican is being treated for a severe wing injury that he suffered as the result of a dog attack.
In the end, it was the lead that finally caught up with the eagle and took the wind from beneath his wings. As that wind was restored on September 28th I silently reflected on the mystery that surrounds this bird. Amidst all of the questions about how he managed to survive against incredible odds lies another question for which it is far more important to find an answer. Why did he have to? All of the pain and suffering that this animal endured was the result of a human choice. Many months ago someone looked at this bird and, for reasons I can't even begin to comprehend, chose to put him to death. It seems that the eagle did not agree with that choice. As I watched him fly out of sight at his release, the eagle's entire being screamed a defiant message to those who chose to kill him. Although unspoken, it's meaning was clear: "I CHOOSE TO LIVE!"
Wildlife Release tally: September 18 to September 24, 2002
Wildlife Release tally: 2002 Year to Date
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