Tuesday, March 24, 2009

28-year-old bald eagle released back to the wild

LADYSMITH, Wis. -- A 28-year-old male bald eagle was released back to his home territory last week after being treated for injuries received last summer. He is once again flying the skies near the Dairyland Flowage, north of Tony.

The eagle was found May 22, 2008 by Department of Natural Resources biologists Mark Schmidt and Chris Cold and transported to Antigo, where he was treated for impact trauma by wildlife rehabilitator Marge Gibson of Raptor Education Group, Inc. Cold said that the decision to hold the bird and wait until mid-March for release was made because of old age and the recent severe temperatures.

“This bird has an interesting history,” Cold said.

He was banded as a nestling on June 5, 1981 by DNR wildlife biologists Ron Eckstein and Chuck Sindelar at Jersey City Flowage, north of Tomahawk. Sometime late in life, he was shot and now has a healed leg fracture to show for it.

“This old injury may have eventually predisposed him to other injuries, which ultimately put him in rehab,” Cold said.

“The good news is that his condition is good and the time is right. As the river breaks up, it is heartening to know that this old veteran is once again on familiar ground as one of the oldest known wild eagles presently alive and free in our state.”

Schmidt and Cold commended the efforts of Marge Gibson and other animal rehabilitators for making this success story possible. While Wisconsin eagle numbers have recovered from historic lows to a present population of more than 1,200 known breeding pairs, they still face threats from illegal shooting and environmental contaminants. One of the major contaminants is lead.

Cold said that when lead is ingested as spent buckshot in crippled game or as sinkers and jigs in unrecovered fish, it continues to kill eagles at a time when alternatives to this toxic metal are available to hunters and anglers. A large percentage of eagles coming in to rehab centers are suffering from lead exposure, either directly (shot) or as ingested in dead fish and animals.

“Lead levels in the blood may predispose eagles to impaired behavior that predisposes them to injury such as impact trauma from vehicles at roadkill sites,” Cold explained.

The biologists and rehabilitators encourage all sportspeople to “get the lead out” and do their part for wildlife conservation. An old eagle flying above some waterway somewhere will benefit from such efforts.

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