Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sister Newspapers' News

August 30, 2012

Bald eagle returns home after convalescence

LEWISBURG — Back in familiar territory after a lengthy hospitalization, a young bald eagle soared away across the treetops, apparently bound once more for the Greenbrier County Landfill.

“She’s heading straight for the landfill,” said Greenbrier County Animal Control officer Robert McClung, shaking his head as he watched the bird fly away Wednesday morning. “Straight back home.”

Just 19 days ago, McClung had responded to a call from landfill manager Wayne Childers reporting what appeared to be a seriously ill or injured eagle at the facility’s gates.

“When you have a bird that you can just walk right up to, and it doesn’t try to get away, you know it’s pretty sick,” McClung said, noting that certainly was the case with the 4-year-old eagle when he first approached her.

“I laid a blanket over the bird and picked it up and put it in the truck,” he said.

McClung radioed the 911 Center and asked the dispatcher to contact Three Rivers Avian Center (TRAC) in Brooks and advise the facility he was en route.

“I met (TRAC personnel) at Sam Black — I was driving toward them, and they were driving toward me, and we met in the middle to try and get the bird to the center as fast as possible,” McClung explained.

According to Wendy Perrone, TRAC’s executive director, staff veterinarian Dr. Bill Streit examined the eagle, and blood samples were sent off for laboratory analysis. Because the eagle was very ill, unable to stand and frequently lost consciousness during that first day, she was placed in intensive care.

After three days of medication and intensive care, the raptor was able to stand and eat on her own and thus was moved into a 40-foot long room in the TRAC flight barn to continue her recuperation, Perrone said.

Lab results showed the eagle was suffering from zinc poisoning. Perrone noted zinc is a heavy metal, a compound of which is a common ingredient found in rodenticides. Because the poison doesn’t kill the rodent instantly, the debilitated rat or mouse makes easy prey for raptors and other wildlife, she explained on TRAC’s Facebook page.

Dubbed “The Lady” by the TRAC staff, the eagle was cleared for release back into the wild 17 days after her hospitalization and rehabilitation began, and it took two more days to secure access to an appropriate site for that release.

“It’s important to release (raptors) into an environment they’re familiar with,” Streit explained. “If they’re put into a new location, they would have to compete with other birds for food. That’s especially true with a bird like this one — having been in captivity and having food thrown to it instead of having to secure its own food in the wild.”

Wednesday morning, TRAC transported “The Lady” to the selected release site — an empty lot overlooking a sinkhole near the Seneca Trail Animal Hospital off U.S. 219 in Lewisburg.

Bracing the eagle’s transport unit — a medium-sized portable kennel — atop a round hay bale in the middle of the field, Streit and Perrone opened the unit’s door and, after a few moments’ hesitation, “The Lady” burst forth, immediately spreading her wings to full span and launching into the air.

A few minutes before the eagle’s release, Streit had told several in the small crowd gathered for the event, “Hopefully, the bird won’t go back to the landfill and get hold of something else that makes her sick.”

After releasing the bird, however, the veterinarian could only watch as the eagle flew a path that appeared destined to take her right back to the landfill.

“She does have a birdbrain, after all,” Perrone shrugged.

The landfill’s manager, who was also present for the release, said perhaps “The Lady” was simply on her way to reunite with friends for lunch.

“We have two eagles flying (at the landfill) already this morning,” Childers said.

He emphasized that the landfill — where new cells have been lined since 1990 — is carefully monitored to ensure the human populace is not endangered by anything deposited there.

“We test the groundwater every two weeks,” Childers said. “We’ve never had anything show up in the tests.”

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