Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
On September 21st, 2004, a small group of people stood in a picnic area next to the water at Fort Flagler State Park. On the grass nearby, a large pet carrier sat in the morning sun. The door to the carrier had been left closed to provide a bit of time for the being within to calm down after her two-hour car ride. She was about to go through a major transition, and it would be best for her if she were not in a state of distress when she did so. She had no idea that her cage door would soon be opened, and even if she suspected that it would, she likely had more cause for apprehension than excitement. Past experience had taught her that whenever that door opened, a human, or simply a larger cage would be waiting on the other side. But she was about to learn that today would be different. When she exited the carrier, no cage walls would be waiting to contain her, and none of the nearby humans would step in to prevent her escape. On the contrary; her escape was the very thing that they had all gathered to see.
The journey from injury, through rehabilitation to release is longer for some animals than others, and at times it can be a challenge just to get an injured wild animal into care. Such was the case with a Bald Eagle with a drooping wing that was spotted on the ground at the entrance to Fort Flagler in mid-May. Fort Flagler is a heavily wooded park, and even a grounded eagle stands a good chance of evading capture if it has dense cover in which to hide. This particular eagle was regularly sighted for nearly two weeks, but she was quite adept at escaping concerned humans, which to her must have appeared to be hungry predators.
PAWS Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Darlene Deghetto performs physical therapy on eagle 04-2412.
Formerly employed by the Alaska Raptor Center, Dr. Ford has had extensive experience working with injured eagles. In Dr. Ford's care, the eagle was x-rayed, and a fracture of the left humerus was discovered. The fracture was displaced, and required surgery to repair. Dr. Ford performed the surgery using a bone pin and an external fixator to align and stabilize the fracture. The eagle was then kept in a small cage to limit her movement while the bone healed. Four weeks later, the wing was stable and the pin was removed. The eagle was transferred to PAWS Wildlife Center on June 29th for additional care and pre-release conditioning.
Eagle 04-2412 exits the carrier at her release.
After resting on a drift log and getting her bearings, eagle 04-2412 flew out over the water.
Since Dr. Ford had performed the surgery that had repaired the eagle's damaged wing, I asked if he would like to be the one to set the bird free. He eagerly accepted the invitation. Dr. Ford opened the carrier door as three PAWS personnel (including myself), four park employees, one newspaper reporter, and the couple that helped rescue the eagle looked on. There was a moment of hesitation, and then eagle 04-2412 burst out of the carrier. She took two bounding hops while flapping her wings before she was airborne. The shadow of her six-foot wingspan was cast on the grounds of Fort Flagler for the first time in four months. She flew about 30 yards and came to rest on a large drift log at the water's edge. Comfortable that she had put a safe distance between herself and the spectators, the eagle began to assess her surroundings. After shaking herself several times to realign her feathers, the eagle pushed off from the log and flew out over the water. A nearby gull, upset at the sudden appearance of a predator, began chasing her and calling loudly. The eagle showed no reaction to the gull, she simply flapped to gain altitude until she was soaring high overhead. After making a wide circle, she disappeared over the treetops.
For the first time in four months, the real eagle is visible.
Wildlife Release tally: September 22nd to October 5th, 2004
Wildlife Release tally: 2004
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