Sunday, March 2, 2008

An Eagle is Set Free

Last Thursday, February 28th, was a very special day. That was the day that I got to release the immature eagle, that Michelle and I rescued from Crex Meadows back in August, back into the wild. Michelle got off of work early that day and picked me up at work around 2:30 PM and then we headed over to The Raptor Center to pick up Terry Headley, who was our eagle handler and eagle 07-393. Birds at the clinic portion of The Raptor Center are given a designation when the arrive. The first number is the year in which the bird is brought into The Raptor Center and the second number is the chronological patient number for that year. So our eagle was the 393rd bird that checked into The Raptor Center in 2007.
Here is a shot that we took at The Raptor Center before we left. It is very fitting that Terry was our handler because she was volunteering in the clinic when we brought the eagle in. She remember him because of all of the mud he was covered in. She remembered that they had to wash him and blow dry his feathers before they could even do the exam.
You can see that he has a small cut near his eye. He got this while in the flight pens. When the birds are almost ready to be released they spend a lot of time working with the flight crews exercising and having their flight evaluated. When they are not working with the flight crews they are placed in the flight pens. These pens allow the birds some room so that they can fly between perches. There were several other eagles with 393 in the pen and another waiting. Since they were so crowded and he was getting rambunctious The Raptor Center was in a hurry to get him released.
The plan was to release him down in Colville Park in Red Wing, MN. This area has a lot of open water and a good food supply which would increase his chances of making it through the rest of the winter. It is about an hour and a half trip to Red Wing and it was an extremely interesting drive with a very vocal eagle in the seat next to me. The weather did not help as it had begun to lightly snow as we were making our way down. When we arrived there were several eagles around, including this immature which was on a deer carcass that the DNR had dropped for the eagles.
While Terry got out of the car with the eagle I was getting the photo stuff ready. Since I was going to be handling the release Michelle took most of the pictures that follow.
The most important part of the release is to make sure that you have a firm hold of the talons. These are the business end of the eagle and the most dangerous.
I remember how strong the talons were from when I rescued the bird. During the rescue I had to pry them from the cage door.
Changing from terry supporting the eagle to me was a bit tricky but once I had a hold it was fine.
Look at that look. "Hey aren't you the guy who dragged me out of the mud."
Here we are ready to go.
On the way down Terry had told us about other releases that she had done at Colville Park where the eagle had landed in the water and needed to be rescued again. So we stood a short way back from the river and on the count of three gave it a little toss.
A couple of people who read the blog braved the weather to come down and watch, John Mikes from weekend shooter, who took a pic of an immature eagle being attacked that we believe might have been why this bird was injured, and CAS. I would like to thank them both for coming down and thank John who took the picture below and has been gracious enough to let us use it.
The eagle did fly low over the water, which made my heart stop for a couple of seconds, but then he soared up and landed in a tree by the marina.
He sat there for a little bit so I grabbed the camera and headed down to get a couple of shots.
After checking things out for a bit he took of again and headed to where the other eagles were on the other side of the water.
The weather was getting worse and we needed to get Terry Back to The Raptor Center so we did not have a lot of time to celebrate. Holding the eagle was extremely cool but there is nothing like the feeling that I had when the eagle left my hands, opened its wing and reclaimed its freedom. It is a memory that I will always cherish and one that is even more special because with out Michelle and my intervention, as well as all the people who helped at Crex Meadows and the great staff and volunteers at The Raptor Center, I know that this eagle would probably not be alive.


Dawn said...

congratulations!! yahhooooo!

Lynne said...

I can only immagine how thrilling and satisfying the whole experience must have been, beginning at Crex Meadows and ending with that release. The photos are priceless. Thanks for sharing a story that most of us will never experience ourselves.

Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful end to what could have been a tragic story. Thanks for sharing the story and the photos! How cool it must have been to have released him!

Mike Hendrickson said...

Way to go Steve!!

Mike H.

RuthieJ said...

Wow, that was so neat! Thanks for sharing the story and pictures.

World Bird Sanctuary said...

Wonderful blog! I work at a sanctuary in MO as a volunteer. We also do rehab and release as well as propagation and education. Thanks so much for sharing this!


Island Rambles Blog said...

This is my all time favorite has just made my day and my week and my year!!! thanks to people like you and the rehab people some parts of our natural world will survive. Whenever you see an eagle now you will wonder is that the one. I would have loved to have been there. Wonderful. I hope you can use this story in your life to express to others the wonder of eagles.

Richard Ford said...

Fantastic story and pictures.The look of satisfaction on your face says it all.