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Catch and release

Collisions among wild animals and motor vehicles are all too common. In most incidents, the animal dies or is seriously injured and the vehicle and/or passengers receive at least some degree of damage or injury. Occasionally, one of these incidents has an inspiring conclusion.

On September 20, an immature female bald eagle flew across the roadway along the St. Joe River and was impacted by a logging truck. The driver, Creig Hixson, had no possible way of avoiding the accident. Any attempt to swerve to avoid the bird would have placed the driver of the Scott Logging (St. Joe, Ida.) rig at risk of a tragic rollover.

The eagle landed at the edge of the road, very much alive. The concerned Hixson checked on the bird and held out hope that the eagle was only stunned. He hoped it would recover its bearings and fly off. 

Hixson had occasion to pass the location three more times that day while hauling loads of logs. Each time, he stopped to check on the welfare of the eagle. When he concluded it was not going to fly on its own, he contacted the Idaho Department of Fish and Game .

Conservation Officer Jerry Hugo responded and located the eagle; a bird he determined was less than a year old. His initial thought was the bird might have internal injuries. Subsequent x-rays revealed a slightly fractured wing bone. 

In most instances, raptors with broken wings cannot return to the wild because they rely entirely on their ability to fly at high speeds to secure food. Even when a wing is pinned or otherwise surgically repaired, it is too fragile to withstand the stress of high speed dives. These birds must then be used for educational purposes or euthanized, as releasing them to a certain death in the wild is inhumane. 

On September 23, Hugo took the eagle to Dr. Jerry Ponti at the Ponti Veterinary Hospital in Otis Orchards. Dr. Ponti determined the bird needed only time for the slight fracture to heal. Marilyn Omler, an employee of the Ponti Hospital and a raptor rehabilitator, assumed care of the bird at the facility. Ponti and Omler have special permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to handle and care for protected species.  

A few weeks of confinement while being nourished with a chicken and fish diet were provided. When x-rays indicated the wing was strong enough, the bird was allowed short flights in a small flight pen to regain its strength.

Final x-rays on October 26 enabled Dr. Ponti and Omler to determine the bird was ready to be released to the wild. Officer Hugo was called and he transported the bird to the location where it was initially found. En route, Hugo picked up a fresh, road-killed fawn, a less fortunate victim of another vehicle/wildlife collision. He dragged the dead deer into the woods near the release site and sliced it open to assure it attracted the attention of the eagle.

“The bird nearly carried me off,” said Hugo. “I opened the crate and took it out. One talon was hooked to my glove and for a moment I thought I was headed to the top of the tree with the bird.” 

The eagle flew to the top of a nearby tree and began looking over its once familiar home. Almost immediately, the eagle spotted the road-killed deer and eyed it carefully. Hugo left the scene, confident the eagle had plenty of food to eat as it readjusted to life in the wild.

Anyone finding an injured bird of prey is encouraged to contact IDFG to investigate. IDFG can make the initial assessment and can take the bird to a veterinarian or a rehabilitator for further evaluation and possible treatment. While many injured raptors cannot be saved, those that can be released are returned to the wild. Only a person with a special permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service can hold a raptor in captivity, as all are protected by federal law.

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Author info

Phil Cooper

Tagged as:

raptor, eagle, injured wildlife

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