An initial exam revealed the bird was lethargic, had puncture wounds on her feet and had a drooping right wing, all likely the result of a territorial dispute with another eagle. She also had a damaged right eye, but later testing revealed the wound was old and unrelated to her other conditions. An X-ray showed the eagle had shot from a BB gun in her chest, another old injury from an unrelated incident.
“It’s remarkable how much this bird has survived,” said Audubon Society of Portland veterinarian Deb Sheaffer. “Not only did she arrive with evidence of multiple past injuries, but treating her right wing proved to be no easy feat.”
After spending a month at the Wildlife Care Center, the eagle still did not have full use of her right wing. X-rays and a CT scan didn’t reveal anything that would explain the ongoing issue, though the scan did show yet another old injury, this time in the bird’s left wing. These inconclusive results left Sheaffer with limited treatment options: She immobilized the right wing with a wrap and waited to see if the eagle’s body could heal itself. The bird finally regained full use of her right wing in April.
Once the eagle had recovered from the injuries that initially brought her to the Wildlife Care Center, Audubon’s rehabilitation specialists needed to determine if the bird could be released with a damaged eye.
“Eagles that arrive at rehabilitation facilities with significant and permanent eye damage are usually considered un-releasable, since birds of prey depend on their eyes to hunt effectively,” said Sheaffer. “However, it turned out this eagle’s circumstances were pretty unusual.”
Audubon brought in Susan Kirschner, a veterinary ophthalmologist, to provide an expert opinion on the eagle’s injured eye. Kirschner confirmed the eye had suffered permanent damage that allowed the eagle to only see movement and shadow on her right side, but she was also able to determine the injury was probably at least a few months old. The eagle had somehow survived in the wild with the damaged eye, and her weight and body condition suggested she had been doing well for herself.
Hayden Island resident David Redthunder provided additional insight into the eagle’s past. He had watched and photographed West Hayden Island’s eagles since they first arrived in the area, and contacted Sallinger to report that the island’s resident female eagle had an eye injury dating back to 2011. The eagle in Audubon’s care may be this resident female, part of a pair of eagles that has raised several young on West Hayden Island.
“It’s possible the eagle not only survived for several years with an eye injury but also mated and raised young, so we don’t see any reason to not return her to her home,” said Sallinger. “Although it goes against conventional wisdom, setting her free seems like the most appropriate option in this case.”
To prepare the bird for release, care center staff members moved her to one of Audubon’s large flight cages and conducted several creance flying sessions. A creance is a light cord used by falconers to tether a bird to its handler during flight; the creance allows the bird to fly further distances than indoor spaces allow. After several weeks of building up her muscles in Audubon’s flight cage and during creance sessions, the eagle is ready to return to the wild.
On the morning of the release, Audubon staff will meet members of the public at Kelley Point Park’s innermost parking lot and then walk a short distance to the release site. The park is located at N. Marine Drive and Lombard Street, Portland, OR. Audubon thanks Portland Parks and Recreation for providing a release site near the eagle’s home on West Hayden Island. Kelley Point was chosen as the release site because of the presence of nesting eagles on West Hayden Island – releasing the eagle at a bit of a distance from the island will give her a chance to get her bearings before she has to face another territorial eagle.
Several other organizations and individuals have also pitched in to help the eagle return to the wild: VCA Rock Creek Animal Hospital provided digital X-rays, veterinary radiologist Jennifer Tepavich of VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists performed the eagle’s CT scan, Carole Hallett will band the bird prior to her release, Sauvie Island Elementary provided a site for creance flying sessions, and good Samaritan Peter Rutkowski first sighted and reported the injured eagle.
Founded in 1902, Portland Audubon is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the nation. It promotes the understanding, enjoyment and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats through its conservation and environmental education programs, its 150-acre Nature Sanctuary and Nature Store in northwest Portland, and its Wildlife Care Center.
For more information, call 503-292-6855 or visit www.audubonportland.org.