A four-year-old bald eagle found at a residence on W. Fifth Avenue with a traumatic head injury in April was released at Betts Park after a month of rehabilitation on Tuesday morning.
The 9 1/2-pound female poked its head from a crate, took a step and launched itself with a six-foot wingspan into a barely-leafed tree along the bank of the Allegheny River.
Executive Director of Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center Carol Holmgren said the eagle was captured by Game Commission Officer David Donachy after a resident on West Fifth Avenue called to report an eagle in their backyard on April 17.
Donachy said he originally thought the eagle had eaten too much and couldn’t fly, but it quickly became apparent it was suffering from a head injury. He captured it around dusk and took it to Holmgren at the center.
While examining the eagle, Holmgren said she found injuries consistent with a major head injury, including bleeding from her right ear, holding her head tilted, unable to see out of her left eye, altered vision in the right eye and lacerations on her legs and feet.
“With that kind of injury pattern, it appeared she locked talons with another eagle causing the foot lacerations. And sometimes if they don’t break fast enough they’ll fall to the ground. So she appeared to hit her head,” Holmgren said.
Since it wasn’t the right time of year for mating season, which the eagle is a little too young for anyway, “she might have been getting in somebody’s territory,” Holmgren said.
That is a sign of recovery for the species. When the population of eagles was low, leading causes of admission to the center were lead poisoning from the eagles ingesting animals shot with lead ammunition or being hit by a vehicle. As the population numbers increase, Holmgren said, injured eagle conflicts at the center are going to increase.
“And that’s been the case. We still see a lot of car injuries, we still lose eagles to lead poisoning, which is a concern. But we are starting to see combat injuries in the last number of years. It’s just a sign of a more dense population,” Holmgren said.
Due to her injuries, the eagle required anti-inflammatory medication, antibiotics and she had to be hand fed.
“So she required handling a couple times a day and our goal was to keep her quiet because rest is healing for the brain. She was not very cooperative on the resting part…she’s an exceptionally athletic and vigorous eagle to have to handle that frequently and was not inclined to self feed,” Holmgren said.
After a couple weeks of medication, feeding, and no significant weight loss, it was time for her to pass her flight test in the center’s largest building a 100-foot-long, 20-foot-high building where she showed continuous flight, stamina, accuracy and the ability to turn left and right.
“This bird was incredible for her ability to be able to go from ground and just take off,” she said. “She had passed her flight test, was very vigorous, she finally ate and so our consulting vet said it’s time to release. So she’s ready to go.”
There are between eight to 10 active eagle nests with one to three eaglets per nest in Warren County. The first identified nest in the county was found in 1992. Eagles are opportunists and Donachy said they primarily eat fish, leaving Warren County as a winter gathering area. Three bald eagles have been found at Chapman State Park “pretty regularly,” he said.
“The (Kinzua Dam) tailwaters is actually a winter gathering area because it never freezes with the outflow there. So we get winter visitors on a regular basis,” Donachy said.
Holmgren said the feather pattern indicates she’s four years old and will come into her full adult plumage over the next few years before looking for a territory to breed and nest.
“It’s just on the cusp of adulthood,” she said.
For more information on the Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center visit it on Facebook or at www.tamarackwildlife.org.