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Posted September 19, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Bald eagle makes return to wild

Seven-month-old bird is released following treatment for leg injury

By Ben Orcutt -- borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- A 7-month-old bald eagle born in Warren County, which had been injured and nursed back to health, flew to freedom on Friday.

"The release went very well," said Ed Clark, president and co-founder of the Waynesboro-based Wildlife Center of Virginia. "We had between 70 and 75 people show up to watch the release."

The release took place at Westover Plantation in Charles City County on the James River across from a 4,200-acre national wildlife refuge and one of the largest eagle roosts on the East Coast, according to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

The bald eagle that was released was born along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and was discovered by Virginia Tech researchers David Kramer, Keri McMullen and Emily Wright. They found the bird in a nest May 20 while working on an eaglet banding project.

The researchers suspected that the eagle's right leg was injured and took it to the Wildlife Center in Waynesboro. On May 21, Dr. Elizabeth Daut inserted pins in the bird's leg during surgery, with the pins eventually being removed after the fracture began to heal. It was later determined that the eagle had recuperated well enough to be released.

"The bird did very well in captivity and was really ready to go," Clark said.

Clark said there is a chance the eagle could return to Warren County.

"There is a chance," he said. "The nesting site in Warren County is relatively new."

In addition to the people who came out to watch the release, there also were some other interested spectators, Clark said.

"Eagles were flying all around us," he said.

Clark said the eagle that was released was placed in a padded cage for the trip from Waynesboro and had rubber foam put on its wings for extra protection.

Madis Leivits, a Wildlife Center of Virginia veterinary intern from Estonia, removed the rubber foam from the bird's wings and once the spectators were clear, Clark released the eagle.

"He was flying well," Clark said of the eagle's 100-yard flight that was low to the ground. Clark said the bird landed in a tree, stayed there for about 15 to 20 minutes and then flew into another tree, before flying into a cornfield and then out of sight.

"The bird's never flown that high," Clark said. "That's part of the learning process. He knows to associate with other eagles. He'll learn by example."

Although only one in four eagles makes it to adulthood, Clark said the eagle that was released has a chance to live to be 30 years old.

"We usually release four or five a year," Clark said. "I think this was number 10 or close to number 10 this year, which is certainly a record number of releases. We have one or two more that are possible releases before the end of the year."

As winter approaches, it could be tough going for some eagles, Clark said.

"During the months of December through February, eagles are trying to establish their nesting territories and when these birds are fighting for territory, they can do a lot of damage to each other," he said. "What that tells us is they are fighting for habitat, which means the habitat is filling up.

"One of the things that makes eagles special, number one, it's the symbol of the United States. More importantly, we consider them to be a symbol of all wildlife. The bald eagle was endangered for so long and they were almost extinct. We've got nearly 700 pairs in Virginia today. It's still protected, but its not considered an endangered species, and that proves that conservation works if we care enough to conserve."

An Augusta County resident, Clark, 58, said he always enjoys being part of the eagle releases.

"One of the benefits of being president of the wildlife center is I get to get to do the fun stuff," Clark said. "This is definitely the fun stuff. I never get tired of it."

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