December 11, 2008
“Home for Christmas”
The Wildlife Center of Virginia, the nation’s leading teaching and research hospital for native wildlife, will release a Bald Eagle on Thursday, December 11 at 1:30 p.m. at the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge [RRVNWR] near Warsaw, Virginia. The eagle will be released on the Refuge’s Laurel Grove Tract.
Participating in the release will be Ed Clark, President and Co-Founder of the Wildlife Center. Joining Clark for the release will be Dr. Dave McRuer, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at the Center and the leader of the medical team that treated the eagle. Others who have been invited for the release include Mark Flessner, who found the eagle; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Frances Murphey [who helped with the capture of the bird]; wildlife rehabilitator Diana O’Connor [who provided emergency overnight care for the eagle]; and Sherri Killough [who transported the eagle to the Center in Waynesboro].
This adult Bald Eagle, likely a male, was spotted by Mark Flessner on May 7; the bird was on the ground and unable to fly. Flessner contacted Fish and Wildlife personnel from the RRVNWR, who captured the bird and took it to local wildlife rehabilitator Diana O’Connor for overnight care.
On admission to the Wildlife Center on May 8, the bird showed a prominent droop of its right wing and was in very poor body condition. At admission, the eagle was given a complete diagnostic examination, including radiographs and blood tests. Radiographs confirmed that the eagle had an old fracture of the right coracoid bone. The eagle was treated with fluids, anti-inflammatories, and anti-fungal medications until it was stabilized. The bird was moved to one of the Center’s large flight pens on June 16. By August, the eagle was flying well but tired quickly; Center rehabilitators continued to exercise the eagle to increase its stamina.
In November, the eagle broke several of the feathers on its left wing. On November 13, Center veterinarians successfully “imped” five feathers onto that wing – a transplant of feathers from another eagle.
The bird currently has slightly less than full extension of its left wing, but has flown and maneuvered perfectly in the Center’s eagle flight pen. This lack of full extension seems unlikely to interfere with success in the wild; as such, the eagle is ready for return to the wild.
“We are delighted to get this eagle back home for Christmas – back to its home territory,” Clark said. “With this release, we also celebrate the continuing comeback of the Bald Eagle population in Virginia – a comeback made possible through federal protection, the preservation of habitat at critical sites like the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, state-of-the-art wildlife veterinary medicine, and the work of dedicated individuals and government agencies committed to the protection of this national symbol.”
The eagle to be released on Thursday is one of several Bald Eagles currently being treated at the Wildlife Center. Thus far in 2008, the Center has admitted 24 Bald Eagles as patients. Among the other current eagle patients is a young Bald Eagle, hatched at the Norfolk Botanical Garden in April 2008, which has created a worldwide following through its online appearances on “Eagle Cam”. That eagle was admitted to the Wildlife Center on May 22 with a severe case of Avian Pox. The eagle underwent surgery on July 12 to remove remnants of a pox lesion and to correct a significant misalignment in the bird’s beak.
It is estimated that the Bald Eagle population of North America numbered about half a million before European settlement. With the loss of habitat, shooting, and the effects of DDT and other pesticides, the U.S. eagle population plummeted. In 1977, there were fewer than 50 Bald Eagle nests in Virginia.
Today, the Bald Eagle population in Virginia is on the rebound. There are now more than 500 active Bald Eagle nests in the Commonwealth.
Every year, about 2,500 animals – ranging from Bald Eagles to opossums to chipmunks – are brought to the Wildlife Center for care. “The goal of the Center is to restore our patients to health and return as many as possible to the wild,” Clark said. “At the Wildlife Center, we treat to release.”
Since its founding in 1982, the nonprofit Center has cared for more than 50,000 wild animals, representing 200 species of native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The Center’s public education programs share insights gained through the care of injured and orphaned wildlife, in hopes of reducing human damage to wildlife. The Center trains veterinary and conservation professionals from all over the world and is actively involved in comprehensive wildlife health studies and the surveillance of emerging diseases. Additional information about the Wildlife Center is available at www.wildlifecenter.org.
The Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge is the newest of four refuges that make up the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. As of September 2008, a total of 8,191 acres have been purchased or donated by Refuge partners, including 1,660 acres of conservation easements. The Refuge provides critical roosting and nesting habitat for the Bald Eagle and includes Virginia’s largest wintering roost for eagles. In February 2005, for example, 395 Bald Eagles were counted at the Refuge on a single day. Additional information about RRVNWR is available at www.fws.gov/northeast/rappahannock.
AN EAGLE UPDATE FROM MARK FLESSNER: On the afternoon of the release, Helen Donovan and I went out to see if the eagle was still up in that same tree. The eagle had flown to another tree maybe 300 yards away, almost to the creek. Clear as day.
She was making her eagle cries, and then two more eagles flew over to her, one peeling off and landing in a tree right near her. The third vamoosed, but the released eagle and good old Joe Foss [a resident male Bald Eagle], we're pretty sure, went around several of the trees on the marsh behind the pond on the creek. Lots of eagle-screeching between the two of them. After ten minutes or so, Joe Foss flew up and around in a big circle, then the released eagle left her tree and joined him. They then flew off together toward that nesting area on the inlet farther downstream.
I thought it'd be pretty cool, but it exceeded my expectations bigtime. Like you said, the released eagle is very easily recognizable in flight, as her wings are uneven and she uses her tail to compensate. So, we figure we'll be seeing her here at home a lot.
Dr. Dave McRuer, Director of Veterinary Services, and Ed Clark [in Santa hat], President and Co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia
Ed Clark, President and Co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia and the eagle.
Photos courtesy of Holly Smith.