Reacting as impatiently as a young bald eagle would be expected to be in captivity, rehabilitated bird No. 7,000 spread massive wings and took flight into her new home at Brookgreen Gardens on Wednesday afternoon to the applause of an eagerly awaiting crowd.
One of two rehabilitated birds initially expected to be set free after months of medical rehabilitation, No. 7,000 soared to the highest part of the trees lining the open field area. Jim Elliott, executive director of The Center for Birds of Prey where the 1-year-old bird has lived since July, cautiously released her, careful to avoid her long talons. Just before removing the cloth covering her head to keep her calm, Elliott asked Irene Mobley, the center volunteer who initially captured the sick bird, to touch her tail for good luck.
The second eagle scheduled for release had suddenly displayed a slight “deficiency in its flight” that had not been obvious the day before, Elliott said. Their concern for the bird that had been treated at the center for a left elbow dislocation delayed its release. The two young eagles had been companions throughout their treatment at the center and had shared a 100-foot flight enclosure where they healed and gained strength.
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The eagle’s release marked the 7,000th rehabilitated bird of prey helped at The Center for Birds of Prey since it opened 24 years ago in Awendaw about 16 miles north of Charleston
Elliott said the eagle’s release was especially exciting because it marked the 7,000th rehabilitated bird of prey helped at the center since its opening 24 years ago in Awendaw about 16 miles north of Charleston. The only specialized avian conservation facility on the East Coast, the center has grown from caring for and releasing eight birds in its first year to more than 600 birds annually, Elliott said. It serves as an avian medical, educational and research center and provides captive breeding and can offer oil spill rehabilitation if required.
Prior to the release, Debbie Mauney, Avian Medical Clinic director, said that birds under rehabilitation at the center are not named for a reason. “We do not want people treating them like pets,” she said.
Mobley said birds of prey fight naturally to resist captivity and fight their captors constantly while in captivity. “We expect that. They are naturally defensive. We are their enemy. We’re not looking for appreciation. Our job is getting them well and back into the world. If they are not showing any fight, we know they are really sick,” she said.
That was the case with No. 7,000. Spotted for weeks before capture was possible, the bald eagle suffered from an avian pox virus that had severely affected its face and eventually its vision.
Wachesaw East Golf Course employees Carley Bryson and Dan Sheppard who were on hand to watch the release said they kept noticing a large bird on the Murrells Inlet course that was “not acting right.”
They did not recognize it as a bald eagle because it takes up to five years for an eagle to mature and develop its white head and tail feathers. Bryson took photos of the strange looking bird that by then had legions on the soft tissue of its face and sent them to the center, which dispatched Mobley from Georgetown to investigate. The first few times capture was attempted, the bird was still too strong and it would flee.
As the virus advanced, the bird was not able to hunt and was taking fish bites from a local fisherman. He continued to feed the bird until Mobley could arrive, walk up behind her and put a net over her. Since its capture Mobley has caught the bird several times for weight checks so it was an emotional but fulfilling day Wednesday for her to see the release of the now almost 10 pound eagle.
It fits in perfectly with our wildlife sanctuary, which is a good place to be if you are a bird, animal or even a human. I feel the eagle will have a new home it will thoroughly enjoy.
Bob Jewell, president and CEO of Brookgreen Gardens
The release was the first of its kind at Brookgreen Gardens and was “very exciting,” said Bob Jewell, president and CEO of the 9,100-acre gardens and wildlife sanctuary. Jewell said releasing the bald eagle there aligns with Brookgreen’s conservation initiative.
“It fits in perfectly with our wildlife sanctuary, which is a good place to be if you are a bird, animal or even a human,” Jewell said. “I feel the eagle will have a new home it will thoroughly enjoy.”
Jaye Rowe, director of Brookgreen Gardens’ operations and special events, said working with The Center for Birds of Prey is a great partnership. Any injured birds found there or reported to Brookgreen is referred to the center.
“We have the habitat for the birds, the trees and water and the open space they need. We are hopeful the eagle will build its nest here in our wildlife sanctuary,” he said.
While hopes are high among Brookgreen’s staff and volunteers that will happen, the bald eagle will plot its own path. Bryson and Sheppard are just as hopeful that path will once again see the bird soaring over the Wachesaw golf course.
Angela Nicholas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.