An injured bald eagle that could not be released back into the wild has a new purpose as a wildlife ambassador for Native Americans.
Late last summer, Think Wild, Central Oregon’s wildlife hospital and conservation center, received a call about an injured eagle near Pringle Falls west of La Pine.
Think Wild volunteer Gary Lauder was dispatched to assess the situation.
“Some hikers had seen it for three days. They had thrown salmon at it and the eagle ate it. They noticed it wasn’t flighted and it was abnormal for it to be near or on the ground,” said Pauline Hice, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at Think Wild. “They gave us a call and we sent a volunteer out there. The volunteer was able to chase the eagle down. Even not flighted, it was difficult to catch.”
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An x-ray showed a portion of the eagle’s wing was amputated. It’s believed the eagle flew into a power line near where it was found and its wing was electrocuted.
Luckily, the wound appeared cauterized and healed without infection. But clearly the majestic bird would never fly.
“The silver lining of that situation is that due to her being a first year, placement is definitely possible,” Hice said. “I reached out to a couple of facilities in Oregon, one being Cascade Raptor Center. They referred me to Michael in Yakama Nation to transfer the eagle to.”
Central Oregon Daily News had the good fortune to be invited to observe the transfer of the juvenile bald eagle from Think Wild in Bend to the Yakama Nation’s Aviary program in Toppenish, Washington.
Suffice it to say it is not easy capturing a 12-pound bird of prey, even one that can’t fly.
“We do a lot of things to make the animal calm such as putting on the hood. When you black out the eyes, it lowers their fear response. The crate is all blacked out,” said Michael Beckler, Yakama Nation Aviary Biologist. “It’s always an adventure. You never know where you are going to go to get an animal and you never know what the animal is going to do when you get it back. We always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Similar to putting blinders on a horse, what the eagle could not see calmed it down.
Anklets were placed on the eagle’s legs to help with training, to begin the process of getting it accustomed to being handled.
“Typically, we’ll train them to sit on a glove in front of an audience, be calm and receive reinforcement from us,” Beckler said. “Basically, you are training them to sit on a glove in front of a group of people that are obviously scary to it. It requires a lot of training to reverse that.”
Bumper guards and cushions were placed on the bird’s wings and tail feathers to protect them if it thrashed around inside the transport crate.
And finally, a mild sedative was administered to help the eagle remain calm during transport and to ensure it wasn’t overly stressed when it arrived at its new home.
“I learned a lot about a first-year bird as opposed to an adult bald eagle,” Hice said. “An adult bald eagle would be bouncing off the walls trying to attack us if I entered an enclosure. By comparison, she is really calm. Very food motivated. Completely different behavior compared to what I’ve experienced with adult bald eagles.”
Bald eagles are protected in the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act.
Only licensed and certified experts are allowed to handle eagles, and only a select few are allowed to keep eagles in captivity.
“Eagles naturally molt a full set of feathers each year. That means a multiple set. The full tail, they’ll molt and regrow. Same with their secondary and primary feathers,” said Alyssa Woodward, Yakama Nation Aviary Technician. “Part of the aviary’s job is to collect those feathers, store them safely and eventually distribute them to our tribal members. That’s what tribal eagle aviaries are supposed to do.”
Eagles are culturally significant to indigenous people of North America.
Tribal members wait for up to 10 years to obtain an eagle feather. The Yakama Nation tries to give eagle feathers to its members as they graduate from high school and college.
“It’s an evolving situation. We can’t guarantee we’ll have the feathers everyone wants at a certain time. We end up having a wait time. We can’t help it. We’re hoping this will benefit the tribe in years to come,” Woodward said.
The Yakama Nation plans to implement a youth eagle internship program for young people to learn about raptor care and training, as well as career opportunities at the aviary or in wildlife-related fields.
For now, the tribes are thrilled to receive their first bald eagle ambassador.
“Currently, we just have one redtail hawk. This will be our first bald eagle. We’ve had some golden eagles in the past,” Beckler said. “The idea is in the future to hit the magic number of 30 birds; 15 bald eagles and 15 gold eagles that people can come and freely see whenever they want.”
The eagle, safely cushioned in its crate, left Bend about 9 o’clock in the morning and arrived at its new home in Toppenish about 7 hours later.
According to Beckler, it is adjusting well to its new home.
Hice said she would keep in touch to learn how the eagle is adapting to its new life in the Yakama Nation Aviary.
“I’m not going to bother them but, every once in a while, I might ask them how is she doing? I know the volunteer who rescued her is very excited that she’s getting to go to a facility and continue her life.”