Flying high

Rehabilitated Bald Eagle released at Walker County Lake

A bald eagle that was rehabilitated at the Southeastern Raptor Center in Auburn was released at Walker County Lake on Saturday. The raptor, which was approximately 4 years old and believed to be female, was found in Franklin County’s Belgreen community in June. It was taken to the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park before being admitted to the Southeastern Raptor Center on June 13. The eagle was dehydrated, emaciated and covered in lice when it was discovered. Its condition stemmed from the fact that it had a fracture of the right metacarpus, which left it unable to fly, according to avian veterinarian Dr. Seth Oster. “The metacarpus is not a large bone in the bird’s wing. This bird probably measured about a 6-inch metacarpus from end to end, but it makes up about a third of the bird’s wing in terms of feathers. It’s really important for control and good flight ability that those heal in alignment so that the feathers are held back in a normal position. Had someone not intervened, that animal likely would have died from those injuries,” Oster said. The raptor spent 144 days in rehab before being released into the wild. Oster said state authorities help determine site location based on annual surveys of Alabama’s eagle population. Walker County Lake, which is part of the West Alabama Birding Trail, is home to a nesting pair of eagles for part of the year. The pair have currently left for the season, and Oster said the eagle released on Saturday will likely find a new home soon as well. “We don’t anticipate that these birds will stay where we release them. Most of our raptors are migratory species. What we’re looking for is a good starting point for them, an area where they have the resources they need to provide for themselves for a few days until they decide where they will move on from there,” Oster said. Saturday’s release was the first in Walker County during Oster’s tenure and is unlikely to be repeated in the near future. “The state keeps us moving around and using different locations. A large number of our birds come from Georgia, and their Department of Natural Resources has the same policy where they try to spread the birds out so that we’re not overstocking any one point and causing immediate competition when we release that bird,” Oster said.

The release was coordinated by the Southeastern Raptor Center in conjunction with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The Southeastern Raptor Center, a division of Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, receives between 350 and 400 injured raptors every year. Most releases are private and serve as a reward for the center’s volunteers. The center has 50 volunteers each semester who help care for the 70 or more raptors housed there at any given time. “That is a lot of daily work to make sure everyone is getting fed, getting their treatments, getting cleaned and has fresh water available. The releases are a reward for the volunteers. That’s the best thank you I can give them,” Oster said. James Caglianon, a senior double major at Auburn University, was tapped to assist with Saturday’s release. Caglianon began volunteering at the center in March 2015. “At some point or another, I’ve done all of the various volunteer responsibilities, such as preparing food, cleaning the aviaries as well as the enclosures of the inpatient birds, assisting with flight evaluations and generally making sure everything stays in good shape and runs smoothly,” Caglianon said in a press release issued by the center. “My job can range from simply making sure the treatment room is properly stocked all the way to holding birds for the doctors to examine and treat.” Caglianon plans to apply to enroll in veterinary medicine following graduation. Public releases are rare because of the time required to coordinate them. At least two weeks of planning went into Saturday’s event, according to Oster. Eagles are an ideal candidate for a public release because the center typically receives no more than 15 per year and interest from the public is high. “It gives the public a chance to hear about what we do and see the end results,” Oster said.