Editor’s note: The good doctor has been so tied up with other obligations she’s had no time to write a new column for this week. Therefore, we present one of her old favorites. If you’ve read it before — well, read it again!
“Some Keep the Sabbath” by Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite childhood poems, often echoes through my mind while working at Peace River Wildlife Center. And quite often that work is being performed on a weekend. Injured and orphaned animals need help on weekends and holidays too, so the staff and volunteers at PRWC don’t get to keep bankers’ hours. The events of a recent holiday weekend were no exception.
In April of this year, a bald eagle was admitted with a wing injury. A subluxation, or partial dislocation, of the elbow joint had grounded this youngster. We estimated her age at approximately three years old, since the dark feathers on her head and tail were mottled but not yet white and her beak was nearly completely yellow.
Most birds do not recover well from an injury like this. Usually the joint will freeze in place. Since the wing cannot be bent and extended sufficiently, the bird can never fly again. This is especially the case in a large bird like a bald eagle, the females of which weigh an average of 10 pounds.
With little hope of this bird’s eventual release, we immediately started looking for permanent placement for her. It is always a challenge for us to find a facility that has met the strenuous criteria to be permitted to house an eagle but does not already have one.
In the meantime, the eagle progressed from her hospital cage to an outdoor woodflight with a little more room. When the time came that we needed the woodflight cage for other recovering patients, we got permission from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to move the young female in with our two permanent resident eagles, Bilfred and Arthur.
We are only permitted for two residents, but in extenuating circumstances have been allowed to temporarily house another eagle with them. It helps us to find placement if we can tell the interested facility that the bird has been on public display and is calm, eats well and handles life on exhibition without stress. We do not keep birds that are anxious about being in captivity. Our goal is to alleviate suffering, not induce it.
The last time we housed a juvenile eagle with our residents, she ended up being a bit of a bully. She would hoard all the food we placed in the habitat and would stake her claim to the best perches.
This time, our old-timers weren’t playing that game. They started off by bullying the juvenile and showed no signs of getting accustomed to her being there. She would often jump and flutter the entire length of the habitat, so we decided to place her in the 100-foot flight cage to see just what she could do.
From the moment she was placed in the flight cage, she could bound from one end to the other in three hops. By the next day, she could do it in two hops. Each day she got stronger. Within days she was flying the entire 100 feet, but only a few inches off the ground. Soon she was 4 feet in the air. Then she could fly up to the 6-foot perch. After less than a month, she was able to fly 20 feet up in the air, bank around and glide back and forth numerous times.
That’s when it became obvious this young eagle had beaten the odds and was ready for release. Since our flight cage is off-site, we enlist special volunteers to help with the feeding and care of these particular patients. Some of our board members helped take care of this bird and were present for her release.
That sure beats sitting around a stuffy board room debating stock options and the price of futures, or whatever it is that board members at “real” companies do! PRWC’s board of directors had a tangible influence on the actual future of this magnificent bald eagle, who is now soaring over Charlotte County again.
There were scattered showers on the afternoon of her release. As we arrived at the site, the rain stopped. As I took her out of her transport carrier, the sun came out. She flew off into the distance, banked around a clump of trees and was gone from our sight.
Watching a bird, whether it is an eagle or a dove, fly away after it would have died from its injuries had we not intervened, is very gratifying. Since many of those injuries are related to man-made incidents and devices, it is only fair that we help mitigate some of that damage. That is why we do what we do.
So instead of getting to Heaven at last — I’m going, all along.
Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.