Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Bald eagle released to territory east of town
By Christine Smith
Dubois Frontier Editor
A week after being found beside the road east of Dubois, a bald eagle was released back to her flying grounds last Thursday. The female bald eagle was found Thursday, Feb. 27 by residents who were driving by the Red Rocks area. In the midst of the sagebrush, a distinct “white blob” was spotted. The couple, who have chosen to remain anonymous, drove back and saw the wind ruffling feathers on the head of a bald eagle.
Believing the bird to be dead, they reported it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The next morning, they went back to check and walked over to the bird, which startled them by jumping up, flying a short distance and then landing in the river. When Pat Hnilicka, a wildlife biologist with the USFWS arrived, they went to the site, where they had to cross the river to find her.
She came out of some shrubs and then flew back into the river where Hnilicka was able to catch her as she floated down toward him.
“She was a healthy eagle– she weighed over 12 pounds,” Hnilicka said, but he was unable to determine what happened to her.
The eagle had no signs of disease or broken bones, but she was visually nonresponsive, he said. “Whether she couldn’t see or was in shock, I don’t know. Something acute had happened.” Hnilicka put her in a box on a jacket to help absorb some of the water she took on in the river. Then they headed to Cody where Susan Ahalt at Ironside Bird Rescue was waiting.
“Bald eagles are born with a bad attitude and it never improves,” Ahalt said, explaining the abnormal behavior of the bird, which, upon arrival, “just laid there” instead of reacting to movement near her. “I’d put my hand near her face and she didn’t move, didn’t bite, didn’t do anything,” Ahalt said. “I couldn’t figure out why because I couldn’t see anything wrong.” Isis, as Ahalt named the eagle, spent the first night in a crate in a warm room, and by the next morning, she appeared to be able to see.
“She saw me coming in and when I moved across the room, she saw the movement,” Ahalt said. The eagle was moved to a small mew with a wall perch where Ahalt found her perched a few hours later. A move to a larger mew allowed Isis to fly around– and to try to get out. “I called Pat and told him, ‘I think she’s ready,’” Ahalt said.
Isis hadn’t eaten while at Ironside, but on that last day, Ahalt gathered her up– which was a process in itself– and, using long forceps, handed her six mice and venison scraps. “At least she went out of here with some groceries in her,” Ahalt said. “I’m amazed how quickly she got over whatever happened.”
This time of year, Ahalt explained, bald eagles, which mate for life, begin nesting and commence breeding. Their offspring are usually hatched in April, which is why it was so important that Isis be returned to the wild. Last Thursday, a week after first being found, Hnilicka brought Isis back to Red Rocks to release her back into the habitat– and to the probable mate– with which she was familiar. Transported in a standard animal crate in Hnilicka’s truck, once at the area, he faced the crate into the wind, tilting it back slightly.
The release took merely seconds, as Isis left the crate, let her feet touch the ground for the briefest of all possible time, took flight into the wind, banked left and disappeared down river.
Hnilicka encourages people who find injured wildlife to report it to the Game and Fish or the USFWS. He said it’s better to make a call to the proper officials instead of trying to handle the animals themselves because it is dangerous. Injured wildlife could have beeen poisoned or rabid. “It’s a consideration of both human and animal safety,” Hnilicka said.