PAWS Magazine

 

Issue 49, Summer 2001

 

Fly Like an Eagle

by Julie Stonefelt

Instead of donning the usual cap and gown and listening to endless commencement speeches on graduation day, I found myself walking along a beach on the western shore of Puget Sound.

On the day of my release from undergraduate study, I would be participating in the release of a Bald Eagle. The eagle had been found about three miles offshore of Puget Sound, water logged and drowning. He was scooped up and brought to Island Wildlife Center and then transferred to PAWS Olympic Wildlife Center in McCleary. After enduring three long months of rehabilitation, it was time for the eagle to go home.

The guest of honor was carried down to the beach in a large pet kennel toward a narrow swath of beach, cliffs, and trees reaching out into the Sound. A small group from Island Wildlife Center and myself followed, equipped with a variety of cameras to record the event.

When we left the cars and houses sufficiently behind, we stopped. Kevin Mack, PAWS naturalist, disappeared inside the kennel. By all of the banging around in the kennel, it was hard to tell who was winning, Kevin or the eagle. But soon Kevin appeared with the massive bird in his arms. I set quickly to work cutting off the guard that had been placed on his tail to protect the feathers from damage during transport to the release site. Next came the wrist bandages, and finally I loosened the falconer’s hood from which the eagle’s giant yellow beak protruded. Kevin removed the hood and sheet, the vestiges of restraint, and placed the eagle on the wet sand facing what we expected to be his old territory.

The eagle took a few bounding hops, spread his long black wings, and leapt into the sky. He soared low over the beach and landed on an abandoned shack. The prehistoric croaking of a great blue heron and the agile dive bombs of an osprey heralded the eagle’s return. The joy of seeing this graceful bird returned to its rightful place was palpable among us. I felt reduced to the size of a sand flea after seeing the eagle I had just touched take wing. We crept closer to watch the eagle absorb his surroundings. A few minutes later he flew farther down the beach into the cover of hemlock and madrona trees.

I was drawn back into the memory of the day before I had started college. I was sitting below my favorite cedar tree, the blustery weather mirrored my inner turmoil. I was excited and nervous to start this new journey. While I was sitting there a feather floated down amidst the gusts of wind and caught on a branch in front of me. I reached out and plucked the feather from its resting place. As I turned it in my hand I could see it was a breast feather of a bald eagle.

Standing on the beach I realized I had completed the circle. I couldn’t help but feel I was repaying the gift, even if in the smallest way, by helping to give this eagle back his greatest gift—his freedom.

PAWS receives no government funding for our wildlife rehabilitation work. We rely entirely on donations from people who love wild animals – people just like you! Please give.

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