Injured eagles go free at Arcadia

Conservation & Preservation

Kathy Toppins
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND November 17, 2008 11:27 pm

— Can bald eagles swim? For more than 70 people who attended WildCare Foundation’s eagle release on Saturday at Arcadia Lake, that became the only question that mattered as they watched an 18-month-old eaglet soar into the sky, circle above the lake and land on the water.

Looking through binoculars and high-powered camera lenses, participants reported seeing the eaglet’s head and flapping wings above water. Rondi Large, WildCare director, assured the crowd the eaglet could float, but said the situation was “not ideal.”

The eaglet landed closer to the southern shoreline, opposite the release site, with strong northern winds carrying her south. As the crowd watched and worried, Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, and others announced that the Edmond Police Department’s Lake Patrol was on its way.

The occasion was to be extraordinary, a double release of bald eagles. A 7-year-old eagle was waiting in a large, covered kennel for her chance to be set free. Because this second bald eagle had more than six years’ experience in the wild, those responsible for her release expected she would know not to land on a lake.

With the eaglet’s fate still unfolding, Sparks opened the older bald eagle’s kennel door, and she immediately took flight over the heads of onlookers, heading in the same southerly direction as the eaglet. While the eaglet still had mostly brown feathers, typical of eagles under 5 years of age, this eagle looked magnificent with white head and tail feathers. She put on a quick show of circling and soaring, and then was gone.

O.T. Sanders, Large’s husband, had kept his binoculars on the eaglet while others watched the second release. He reported seeing the eaglet make it to shore, take flight, circle a short distance and land in brush on a slight hill past the shoreline trees. With no eaglet in sight, though, Sanders’ reassurance was not enough for some participants who worriedly waited and watched for her to take flight again.

While they waited, the lake patrol boat arrived, picked up Sanders and headed for the area where he had last spotted the eaglet. Sanders took a large net in the event he found the eaglet injured. Just as the boat neared the shoreline, the eaglet lifted off the ground and circled, the distant flight visible to now exuberant participants watching from across the lake. When Sanders returned, he reported the eaglet had been resting 40 to 50 yards from the shoreline.

Whether this eaglet swam or was awkwardly blown to shore is uncertain. Eagles can swim short distances with a wing movement that looks something like a butterfly stroke. They do not float high on the water with webbed feet paddling beneath them like a duck.


The eaglet’s lack of early life experiences may explain why she mistakenly landed on the lake. During a storm in May 2007, Large said, the 7-week-old eaglet’s nest tree fell down outside Enid. Her sibling died. With pelvis injuries, the eaglet went straight from the fallen nest to WildCare.

“At 7 weeks, she was still being taken care of by her parents,” Large explained. When she became separated from them, Large said, “she lost all that experience of her parents teaching her about live hunting,” usually at lakes for fish or ducks. Large said she hoped the two released birds, which had been together at WildCare, would stay together after their release so the older one would continue to serve as a role model for the eaglet.

The older eagle, Large said, was banded as a nestling in May 2001 outside of Kansas City. She was found injured in an Oklahoma riverbed and brought to WildCare in December 2007. Large said the eagle had a broken corticoid, a puncture wound in her wing, a scuffed shoulder and possibly a slight concussion. According to Large, the wounds suggest she may have been hit by a vehicle.

As winner of WildCare’s first Dollars for Freedom raffle, Edmond resident Donita Thomas had the honor of releasing the 18-month-old eaglet. Before the release, she said she was “a little nervous.” She said she had helped move injured hawks at WildCare several years ago, “so I know the strength of their talons.” Thomas said she had been to a fox release, but never to a bald eagle release.

Ashleigh Fowler and Miranda Vesy came to witness the release because they both worked with the eagles at WildCare, “doing daily feeding, cleaning and health monitoring,” Vesy said. Fowler described the eaglet’s personality as the more outgoing of the two.

“When I put food in the center of their enclosure,” Fowler said, “the eaglet stayed on a perch right next to me.”

The eagle enclosure, Large said, is 80 feet by 100 feet and 20 feet tall. Within the enclosure, she said, the two eagles recently had been vocalizing, squabbling and “toteming. When one bird landed on a perch, the other bird landed on the first bird just to irritate,” Large said. She further described the eagles as “getting agitated, flying quite a bit and showing signs that they wanted more space … to fly free.”

And, on Saturday, they did fly free. Without a federal banding permit, Large said WildCare has no way of tracking the eagles that may stay nearby, head back to their nesting areas or migrate further south. “I hope they’ll send cards,” Large said.

Their more predictable rehabilitator returned to Noble, where 400 other injured and orphaned wild animals remain under her wing.

Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.


Brett Deering | Special to the Sun Spectators watch as a mature female bald eagle takes flight after a year of rehabilitation by the WildCare Foundation for a coracoid process fracture and wing puncture Saturday at Arcadia Lake.

Brett Deering | Special to the Sun Rondi Large, center, director of WildCare Oklahoma, and other spectators watch the progress of a young eagle released Saturday at Arcadia Lake. One of two released, the young eagle plunged into the lake and after floating to the shore, climbed out and flew away.

Brett Deering | Special to the Sun Ernie Martin of Lexington watches as a mature female bald eagle takes flight after a year of rehabilitation by the WildCare Foundation for a coracoid process fracture and wing puncture Saturday, Nov. 15 at Arcadia Lake in Edmond.

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