On August 21, a young Golden Eagle was found standing on the road in Saltville, Virginia. The eagle was initially taken to Southwest Virginia Veterinary Services, a non-wildlife veterinary facility near Lebanon. Although specific details of the initial rescue are unavailable, records state that the bird was unable to fly away when approached. The eagle was transported to the Wildlife Center the next day as a referral.
Dr. Ernesto, one of the Center’s veterinary interns, performed the initial exam which revealed the juvenile eagle was bright, alert, responsive, and able to stand. However, the bird was in poor overall physical condition and had mild inflammation in the rear portion of the left eye. The injury, possibly due to physical trauma, had caused partial vision impairment and is most likely the cause of the eagle’s dehydration and poor body condition. Emergency blood analysis was performed revealing a low-level of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, another factor indicating fatigue and physical stress.
Radiographs were taken the same day, and Dr. Ernesto did not find any bone fractures or skeletal abnormalities. Additional blood testing revealed low levels of lead.
The eagle was given fluids, anti-inflammatory and pain medication, and was fitted with a tailguard to protect its feathers while placed in a crate in the Center’s indoor holding room.
The eagle’s attitude, posture, appetite, and physical condition were monitored daily, and it was determined that the bird’s injuries were not severe enough to immediately rule out the possibility of release. On August 26, it was transferred to outdoor enclosure A-1 for physical conditioning and additional monitoring. After additional observation, Drs. Dave and Peach concluded that this eagle is very young -- likely hatched just a few months ago.
While Golden Eagle’s live year-round in many western states, they are usually only seen on the east coast during winter months – and even then, very rarely. However, from 1995 to 2006, approximately 50 young, captive-raised Golden Eagles were released throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, and northern Georgia in an attempt to establish a local breeding population. While the fate of many of these eagles is unknown, it is possible that some of them successfully reproduced.
Dr. Dave, the Wildlife Center’s Director of Veterinary Services, suspects that this individual may be a direct descendant of those eagles. Based on the eagle's age, it’s unlikely that it would have been able to fly any significant distance since hatching. Feathers from the eagle have been sent to Purdue University to analyze the DNA, which -- when compared to the genetics of western Golden Eagles -- may be able to definitively reveal this bird’s heritage.
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