After some hesitation last Tuesday, a young, rehabilitated bald eagle decided to take advantage of the freedom offered to him.
The one-year-old male raptor was found April 15 in the grass at Avery Park near Wishram, Wash., unable to fly. An employee at the park contacted authorities at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at The Dalles Dam, who then delivered the bird to Rowena Wildlife Clinic.
No one knew why the eagle had become incapacitated, and Jean Cypher, RWC founder and veterinarian, said that blood work showed he was suffering only muscle trauma.
At first the bird was a poor eater in captivity and clinic workers had to rip up his food and offer it to him. Before long, however, he was handling the job by himself and by late April he was “finally wanting to fly,” said Dr. Cypher.
The eight-pound eagle was ready for release after three weeks at the clinic. Dr. Cypher determined that nearby Columbia Hills State Park was a better release site than where the bird was found because Avery Park is small, sparsely treed and near a busy highway and railroad.
But at Columbia Hills, after RWC volunteers opened the door of the kennel in which the eagle had been transported, the eagle stayed put — even after they stepped behind the kennel to reduce his fear of human confrontation. So after several minutes of waiting, the volunteers decided to unscrew the the top of the kennel.
And that’s all it took! As soon as sunlight flooded the kennel, the eagle leaped straight up and out. At first, he flew about four or five feet off the ground but quickly circled back and perched in a tall poplar tree.
This story has a happy ending, but some other experiences Dr. Cypher has had with eagles have not.
In early March she received a sick bald eagle that had been found in the vicinity of Washington’s Klickitat River. It died five days later of lead poisoning, and she said she suspects the eagle had eaten carcasses of squirrels killed with lead shot.
This is yet another reminder that lead shot, which is banned nationwide for hunting waterfowl, continues to have unintended consequences when used to hunt other game.
And eagles, of course, aren’t the only ones to suffer. See a previous post on this issue regarding trumpeter swans and California condors. Also, visit OPB’s Oregon Field Guide for a segment on Condors and Lead Bullets, which includes information on educating hunters. The shooting demonstrations the educators use clearly show how lead shot fragments into thousands of pieces inside the victim — meaning, obviously, that humans eating game killed with lead shot are also ingesting the lead.
The National Rifle Association continues to oppose the banning of lead shot. Read this recent article in Environment 360. The good news, however, is that California may be close to enacting a statewide lead shot ban.