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A visit from the ophthalmologist

Posted by thunsdorfer at Nov 18, 2013 11:40 AM |
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Nov. 18, 2013: We recently admitted a female Bald Eagle found injured on West Hayden Island, and the results are in from her ophthalmology exam.

A visit from the ophthalmologist

Bald Eagle - Tinsley Hunsdorfer

Portland Audubon conservation director Bob Sallinger has provided an update about the Bald Eagle we admitted last week:

Eagles that come into wildlife rehabilitation centers with significant permanent eye damage are usually considered un-releasable. Birds of prey depend on their eyes to survive – they see up to eight times better than humans and bifocal vision is what allows them to hunt effectively. Imagine an eagle trying to catch a salmon with only one eye!

We recently admitted a female eagle to the Wildlife Care Center after she was found injured on West Hayden Island, and we were heartbroken to find that among several injuries, her right eye had severe damage. As we worked to repair her wings and legs from what appeared to be a territorial dispute with another eagle, we knew in the back of our minds that the eye would most likely make release impossible. She was most likely going to spend her life in a cage. We consulted with several other large rehab centers that work on eagles and they all said the same thing – she should not be released.

Then two events got us rethinking that conventional wisdom. First, we brought in a veterinary ophthalmologist (eye specialist) to examine the eye. She confirmed the eye had suffered serious permanent damage – at best, the eagle could only see movement and shadows. However, the ophthalmologist revealed another detail that caught our attention – the injury was old, probably at least a couple of years old, and it was not related to the eagle’s other injuries. She had somehow been surviving in the wild with the damaged eye for an extended period of time, and based on her weight and body condition (outside of her immediate injuries), she seemed to be doing quite well.

Second, David Redthunder – who has watched and photographed West Hayden Island’s eagles since they first arrived – called us to report that the resident female eagle had had an eye injury as far back as 2011. In fact, when we zoomed in on some of the pictures David had taken of the birds over the years, the eye injury was visible.

This information verifies that the eagle currently in our care is the resident eagle that has been nesting and raising young on West Hayden Island for the last couple of years. She has apparently had one heck of a life: At some point she lost most of her vision in one eye, at another point she was shot with a BB that she still carries in her chest muscle, and most recently, it appears she got into some sort of territorial dispute with another eagle that left her with injuries to her wings and legs. If she goes back to the wild she will face the threat of losing her nesting habitat to the Port of Portland’s bulldozers.

However, given that this bird has apparently been surviving, mating, nesting and raising young on West Hayden Island for at least a couple of years with her eye injury, we can’t see any reason to not return her to her home if she fully recovers from her other injuries. There are no guarantees that she will survive… but there never are. Our goal is always to give the injured animals brought to the Wildlife Care Center a second chance at life in the wild, and although it flouts conventional wisdom, in this case release seems like the most appropriate outcome. Again, she still needs to recover from other injuries, so stay tuned.

May 25, 2014: West Hayden Island Bald Eagle returns to the sky
May 21, 2014: Audubon releases rehabilitated Bald Eagle May 25 at Kelley Point Park
Dec. 13, 2013: Bald Eagle update: It's time for a CT scan
Nov. 11, 2013: Injured Bald Eagle found on West Hayden Island

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