Monday, July 09, 2007

Fly like an eagle!

A good friend of mine and her daughter spend a huge amount of their free time volunteering as bird rehabilitaters at the Ogden Nature Center. On Saturday they invited me on a little adventure. They were going to be releasing a Golden Eagle, something that is a pretty big deal in the bird rehabilitation world.

Birds are well-protected animals with the exception of some birds that can be hunted and a few “nuisance” birds (starlings, pigeons and house sparrows) it is illegal to harm or own any migratory bird. In fact it’s actually illegal to own bird feathers, and eggs and nests. Knowing this I shouldn’t have been too surprised that eagle rehabilitation is pretty regulated. The Ogden Nature Center where my friend works is a licensed rehabilitation center, and while their rehab program is growing, they are lacking in some facilities for doing eagle rehab, namely a flight cage. Any raptor that needs to spend time in a flight cage prior to being released must be taken to another facility. In the case of eagles, they must be shipped back and released in the same area where they where found.

The eagle that was to be released yesterday was being flown back from a rehab in Denver. One of the Colorado rehab-ers neighbor is a doctor, who recently got her pilots license and her own plane. A trip to Utah would be a good chance to practice her mountain flying so she volunteered to fly the eagle to Utah, and bring some Utah birds to Denver to the flight cage. Early on Saturday morning we headed out to the tiny airport in Morgan, Utah, to meet the plane and exchange birds. We were at the airport for a while as they tried to figure out the logistics of loading all the birdcages into the plane for the trip back to Denver. They decided to switch an eagle into a smaller crate, and got permission to go into a hanger to make the exchange. It is pretty amazing to watch them handle the huge eagle, those beaks and claws look very scary to me, yet they handle the birds with ease.

After they the plane was loaded we headed about 10 miles away to the release site. This is where the day took an unfortunate turn... Delynn pulled the eagle out of the carrier and spread it wings to examine the bird before releasing it. As you may be able to see in my poor picture, it wing feathers were damaged; some primaries were missing, others looked broken off. She had to make the hard decision not to release the bird, so it wasn’t eagle release day after all. The big question became whether the bird had damaged it wings in the carrier, or if the wrong bird was sent. I had assumed that they banded rehab-ed birds, but it turns out that’s not allowed, so it is possible they caught the wrong bird in the flight cage. It would certainly be interesting to see how they actually capture the eagles that are free to roam in 100 yard long, 18 ft tall flight cage! Nothing about rehabilitating eagles seems easy! It will be interesting to find out what the story was with the eagle. It was slightly disappointing not to see it set free, the at least the day was interesting and educational. I’m looking forward to going on the future release.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a fantastic adventure for you. Too bad there was a mix up/injury.
Your pics were fine, chica.