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The Bald Eagle - our national symbol - almost became our national disaster! This majestic, spectacular Bird of Prey has long been on the Endangered Species List - its numbers seriously affected by habitat loss and pesticide poisoning. The decline of the Bald Eagle in this country was a wake-up call for us! Once alerted to the cause, humans have tried to correct the problem and have even passed legislation to protect not only the Eagle, but other national wildlife treasures as well. To me, the Bald Eagle has served its nation well, by setting things in motion - to improve the environment for the sake of wildlife and mankind alike. Bald Eagle numbers have risen since the pesticide DDT, used widely in the 60's and 70's, has been banned. As rains washed the pesticide off the land into rivers, lakes and streams, DDT became concentrated in fish, the Bald Eagle's main diet. This caused thinning of their eggshells, which crushed beneath the weight of the incubating parent. Dedicated efforts by the Ohio Division of Wildlife have restored Ohio's Bald Eagle population from just four nesting pair of Eagles in 1979 to over 210 nesting pair in 2009, producing record hatches for the past several years! They are not out of the woods yet; there are still traces of other dangerous chemicals evident in tests run on eggs and blood samples of living Eagles in the wild. At least, we are doing something, and we have been rewarded with the Eagle's return to our State. In 2007, the Bald Eagle was removed from the Federal Endangered Species List, and in 2008 from Ohio's Endangered Species List! This is the very best news to see a species recover from the brink of extinction!
Bald Eagles appear as large, dark hawks the first few years of their life, lacking the characteristic white head and tail. They are called juveniles their first year, and immatures until their 4th year. Four and five year olds are called sub-adults, and begin to show white head and tail feathers as they molt. Juveniles and immatures appear dark brown all over, with much white mottling throughout their feathers. By the 4th year, the head begins to look a dirty-white and the eye color and beak begins to change from brown to yellow. These majestic, spectacular Birds of Prey do not attain their full white head and tail until their 5th through 7th year. Many people do not realize they have seen a Bald Eagle soaring overhead, and mistake these young Eagles for Turkey Vultures.
Our seven Bald Eagles who reside here at "BACK TO THE WILD" are a wonderful addition to our Educational programming. They invoke awe in visiting children and adults and inspire them to make a personal commitment to take better care of our natural world! Our first Eagle arrived on January 23, 1998, after a long stay at the Raptor Rehab Center at the University of Minnesota. This unfortunate, beautiful bird was permanently disabled when his nest crashed to the ground after a severe storm, July 3, 1997 in Fremont, Ohio. He was just a 7-week-old chick, not yet fledged. His sibling, a female, survived the crash without injury and was immediately rescued and fostered into an active nest at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor. Thanks to the efforts and quick action of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, she fledged successfully into the wild at 11 weeks old! Sadly, our male has never even known flight. A great portion of his left wing had to be amputated. Even though the storm that took his freedom was an act of nature, the blame still falls on man. There are too few trees left standing that can bear the weight of the massive nest of an Eagle - a nest that can weigh well over 2,000 lbs. - that's 1 ton ! Man has harvested and removed our oldest and most important trees. Our second Eagle was found in a field in Oak Harbor, unable to fly, on Labor Day of 2001. X-rays revealed that both shoulders had been broken - most likely in a collision with power lines. He, too, will never again, fly free in the wild. Our third Eagle was another victim of power lines ~ she was actually electrocuted and severely burned her wings so badly, that the follicles that produce the major flight feathers were permanently damaged. She, too, can no longer fly. Eagle number four was hit by a train in Port Clinton, Ohio and has a wing injury as well as the loss of one eye. Two other Eagles are here, due to collisions with vehicles, a constant problem for wildlife. Our seventh Eagle was found nearly blind in both eyes, as a victim of West Nile Virus. She was found in a field near Lake Erie, in Vickery, Ohio, April 2003. A gentleman looking for Indian artifacts, found her struggling in dense brush. This Eagle was within hours of death from starvation and dehydration. Unable to hunt or fly, West Nile had taken its toll - she had not eaten in weeks. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Band on her leg, told her story. She had been banded in the nest, as a 9 week old chick in 1992 at White's Landing, very near where she was found injured and dying. In 1994, these same band numbers were reported, that indicated this Eagle had been hit by a car, rehabilitated by a center in Michigan, and released back into the wild, where she lived nine more years, building nests and producing offspring of her own!
It is truly sad that she and all the others will live the remainder of their lives in captivity ~ we must use this opportunity to benefit other wildlife and work to prevent human-related injuries from happening to others. At least, these seven unfortunate creatures of the wild, share enclosures with each other and at least are able to interact with their own kind. Hopefully, that is of some comfort to a wild animal, who is sadly sentenced to imprisonment. Thanks to the generosity and kindness of several local fishermen, supplies of fresh fish are donated often to BACK TO THE WILD to help feed our Eagles. These donations are critical to the center and help to offset the many expenses of feeding all our wildlings!
On a much happier note, BACK TO THE WILD was able to successfully release seven Bald Eagles in the past two years back into the wild after extensive rehabilitation here at the center! What a thrill and what a privilege to be a part of giving them a second chance to be free in the wild ~ where they belong!
This Eagle is one of the glove-trained Eagles at the center who will be used in educational programs to benefit other wildlife. Mona Rutger holds both Federal and State permits that allow her to use permanently disabled, non-releasable hawks, owls and eagles, who act as ambassadors for the wild creatures sharing our planet. At the center, they live in spacious, outdoor enclosures with special perches, ramps and other features to enhance their quality of life.
A Bald Eagle which was blinded by West Nile Virus in 2002 in his own enclosure.
An immature eagle.
I never imagined in a million years, that one day a Golden Eagle would reside at our facilities here at BACK TO THE WILD! But she truly is here, arriving on June 30, 2007. I received a call from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency who licenses us allowing hawks, owls, eagles and other migratory birds to be held in our possession. They asked if we would be interested in providing a permanent home for a disabled Golden Eagle. It didn't take me long to answer that question! I knew she would become a great addition to our educational programming, allowing thousands of visitors and children on school field trips, to see up close and personal, an Eagle they might never otherwise encounter.
Her story is hard to believe, since it began on a fateful day in Northern California, near the Sierra/Nevada Foothills (the original Gold Rush territory), where she and her mate were feeding on a road-killed deer. Both were struck by a semi and her mate was instantly killed. She was found mangled and caught in a barbed wire fence, with a severely broken wing and head injuries. A good Samaritan, Irene Freitas, passing by in her car, saw what she described as "carnage" and came to the rescue. She literally placed the injured Eagle in her back seat and transported it to the Tri-County Wildlife Care Center in Sutter Creek, CA. The Eagle's surgery was done by Dr. Hammond and Dr. Yack at Jackson Creek Veterinary Clinic. Due to the rescue efforts of a caring civilian, and these two vets, a life was saved. Deemed "non-releasable", this Golden Eagle now has a new mission in life ~ to help us educate thousands of humans who can, in turn, learn to protect and preserve tens of thousands of other wild creatures on our planet!
The Golden Eagle is a member of the Booted or True Eagle family. Bald Eagles are Fish Eagles and are not closely related. These are the only two species of Eagles in North America. The Bald Eagle does not occur on any other continent. The Golden Eagle, however, can be found here in North America, Eurasia and Northern Africa. Golden Eagles are birds of open country, preferring the rugged solitude of the mountainous west where people are more spread out. It is considered to be fairly common in Western U.S., Canada and Alaska, and is a rare or irregular visitor to the Midwest and Eastern U.S. Each winter, just a few are spotted in Ohio, but they soon depart to nest in Western territories. They are very similar in size, weight and wing span to the Bald Eagle, but their diets differ, preying on prairie dogs, jackrabbits, ground squirrels, grouse, chukars, reptiles, birds and deer. They, too, are opportunists, feeding on carrion occasionally. Golden Eagles wear feathers on their legs, all the way to their toes. Bald Eagles have bare legs and feet. Golden Eagles have brownish-golden feathers on the crown and nape (back of the neck) and never attain the hallmark white head and tail of the Bald Eagle. Bald Eagles have a more massive beak and larger head than the Golden Eagles. Both have incredible vision. The Golden Eagle can spot prey a mile away and can attain dive speeds of over 150 mph. Their talons can close with over 1200 lbs. per square inch of pressure, possessing the strongest grip of any raptor in North America. Golden Eagles occasionally nest in trees, but more often build nests on cliff faces or rocky crags. Both the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle pair for life, but if their mate is injured or dies, they will find a new mate in a matter of weeks. Both species of eagles can live well over 20 years in the wild and even longer in captivity. There are accounts of captive Bald Eagles over 50 years old! Golden Eagles escaped the plague of DDT contamination, because their diet consists of mostly grass-eating mammals, not fish, and this involves a shorter, more direct food chain. Still, Golden Eagles are at risk, as they are intentionally poisoned by ranchers, illegally shot and are often victims of power lines and vehicle collisions.
Both the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagles are protected in the U.S. through the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Possession of a feather or other body part is a felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and/or 10 years in prison. Native Americans, who are recognized by the Federal government can request and receive eagle feathers for ceremonial purposes. They cannot wear them personally or display them in their homes. Here at BACK TO THE WILD, we must collect all molted Eagle feathers on a regular basis and mail them to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Eagle Repository. These laws are strictly enforced and need to be in place, to continue adequate protection of one of our country's most precious natural resources.
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BACK TO THE WILD wildlife rehabilitation center in Castalia, Ohio.
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