Golden Eagle #16-1934

August 21, 2016
November 28, 2016
Rescue Location
Smyth County, Virginia
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

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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Patient Updates

Golden Eagle #16-1934 was released on November 28 at Big Walker Lookout in Wytheville, Virginia. When Dr. Dave released the eagle, the bird flew over a steep cliff and circled around to land in a nearby tree. The young eagle sat in the tree for about an hour, taking in his surroundings, before taking off. Remember to check this eagle’s tracking page to follow his adventures!

Photos from Barb Melton:

Release Videos

Golden Eagle Release in the News

Golden Eagle #16-1934 has been flying well during the past couple of weeks. Due to his stubborn nature, the bird has been a challenging patient, but after continual exercise sessions as well as two creance sessions, the staff feel that this eagle is now ready for release.

On Thursday, November 17, Dr. Dave fitted the bird with a GPS backpack, so that the bird’s movements can be monitored post-release. This will be a chance to further monitor the young Golden Eagle’s movements throughout the seasons. Typically, the Center only occasionally admits Golden Eagles in the winter months; generally, Goldens on the East Coast breed in Canada. DNA samples were sent out for testing shortly after the eagle’s admission; preliminary isotopic analysis indicates that the bird was likely hatched in the U.S. More thorough analysis is pending scientific analysis.

On Tuesday, November 22, blood was drawn for pre-release analysis, which came back within normal limits. The Golden Eagle will be released on Monday, November 28 at Big Walker Lookout in Wytheville, Virginia at 1:00 p.m. Those attending the release are asked to meet in the parking lot. The release is free and open to the public. Reservations are required; there are a limited number of parking spaces available. Please RSVP to

Golden Eagle #16-1934 has been flying well during the past few weeks. The bird has been challenging for the rehabilitation staff and externs to exercise; while the bird is capable of flying, it is often stubborn and refuses to fly after just a few passes. The rehabilitation staff split up the eagle’s exercise into two sessions a day for a couple of weeks; the bird is now back to one session a day, and typically flies about 15 passes.

If the eagle continues to do well in the coming week, Dr. Dave McRuer will fit the bird with a GPS transmitter so that Center staff and other biologists can track the eagle post-release. Watch the eagle on Critter Cam 3!

During the last three weeks, Golden Eagle #16-1934 has remained in flight pen A-1 for physical conditioning and monitoring. The young bird is exercised daily by rehabilitation staff members, who report that on average, the eagle is able to complete seven to eight passes while maintaining acceptable form: feet tucked, wings and body balanced, and proper height.

Veterinary staff are still waiting for the results of the DNA analysis that will compare this bird’s genetic patterns to both eastern and western Golden Eagles. Until then, the eagle will continue daily exercise and monitoring to assess the possibility of release.