Printed on: April 22, 2013

Raptor Center releases rehabbed eagle in Jackson

Jackson Hole News & Guide

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Three bald eagles - a mature male, a mature female and a pesky juvenile male - soared over the Teton Raptor Center as a large crew gathered to watch the release of yet another bald eagle.

It seemed fitting, as if the majestic raptors were welcoming a fallen member of their species back into the wild. In reality, nesting bald eagles are fiercely territorial, and camaraderie had no part of the aerial display above the Hardeman Barns. The two mature birds were, in fact, harassing the juvenile out of the neighborhood, said Amy McCarthy, the raptor center's executive director.

And the mature male being released might very well have been injured from a run-in with another bald eagle, said Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Susan Patla.

No one was certain what happened to the bird, which was discovered flightless and sickly at Melody Ranch in late February. X-rays showed no injuries or visible trauma, and the eagle tested negative for lead toxicity.

He was unstable on his legs and was quivering, leading veterinarian and raptor center board member Dan Forman to the conclusion that poisoning could have been the cause.

Patla said a collision during a fight with another eagle was just as likely.

At its March 25 release, the eagle was back to 100 percent.

Jackson Hole attorney Len Carlman helped the raptor center's Jason Jones set the bird free.

In honor of the United States' national emblem, Carlman donned an American flag.

"For lack of a flagpole, Amy's going to throw it on my shoulders," Carlman said. "I'm being wrapped in the flag, quite literally. I'm really proud of our country, I'm proud to be a part of it. All of you. All of us. My son Reed, he's handy." The crowd, about 75 strong, laughed.

It takes just seconds to release a bird of prey.

To prolong the ceremony, Carlman recited the words of Irish poet George William Russell, beginning with "I will not follow you, my bird, I will not follow you." As Jones and Carlman climbed a snow pile, the eagle began thrashing.

"He's ready to rock 'n' roll," a bystander muttered.

The release went seamlessly, save for Carlman's fall on the snowpack.

Once the eagle's hood was pulled, the bird briefly touched down before taking flight. He flew low, veering north up Fish Creek before slipping out of sight.

Releasing a bald eagle at the raptor center is a treat, McCarthy said, because most raptors brought to the center are found in Idaho, and center employees try to release birds near their home territories.

It's unclear if the raptor center baldy was the resident bird where it was found near Melody Ranch or if it was treading into the territory of a nesting pair.

If the eagle was in fact the resident male, he could cover the ground needed to get back home to South Park in minutes, McCarthy said.