FROM DINGLE HILL: The ​Eagle – November 2023

By Peg DiBenedetto

In mid-September, trucker Joseph McGovern was driving along Route 206 near Masonville when an eagle landed in the road ahead. To his horror, an oncoming delivery truck hit it, and Joseph almost ran into it as well, but deftly maneuvered around it. He stopped his truck and jumped out to see if it was still alive. The eagle—a large adult female—was lying in the ditch, still breathing but motionless. As Joseph approached, she locked eyes with him.

He punched 911 into his phone and reported the injured bird. As Joseph waited, the Delaware County emergency operator relayed the message to Friends of the Feathered and Furry (FFF) Wildlife Center in Hunter. My husband Michael was the closest responder, but still two hours away.

Joseph knew he had deliveries to make, but did not want to leave the injured eagle alone.  In time Don Snow, the owner of the trucking company showed up. He sent Joseph on his way and waited as long as he could for Michael to arrive. But eventually Don had to leave, so he tied a florescent yellow vest to a tree to mark the exact location of the eagle.

With no humans in sight, the injured eagle rallied. Michael arrived and found the vest tied to the tree, but no eagle. Where had she gone? If I were an eagle, where would I go? The only choice was up a slight rise on the side of the road. He scanned the treeline, and by chance saw bright white head feathers in the distant trees. The eagle had somehow forced herself to move about a hundred yards uphill, then hopped up to perch on a downed log. (That is a very long way for an injured animal to travel, demonstrating how desperately they do not want to be caught by humans!)  Had she been a juvenile with dark plumage, Michael probably wouldn’t have seen her and might never have found her.

As he slowly made his way toward her, prepared for capture and containment, the bird had other ideas. She rallied again and executed a low glide back down to the side of the road where she’d started. When he finally got back to her, she rolled into the ditch and surrendered. Michael scooped her up and deposited her into a transport cage.

Back at the Wildlife Center, Michael and FFF owner/manager/caretaker/wildlife rehabilitator Dave LoVerde discovered a badly bruised wing, along with some head trauma. As of the writing of this article, the eagle is still in the recovery room. When she has regained enough strength she will be moved to an outside cage. From there, in time, she will graduate to the flight cage—the final, necessary component of rehabilitation for birds of prey. The flight cage enables recovered birds to gradually reclaim their flight abilities, instead of putting them in a precarious situation by releasing them too soon. In-cage cameras give Dave vital information about the birds’ progress. Once an eagle, or hawk, or owl flies effortlessly and procures food left on the ground, or exhibits fishing prowess by catching its own fish in the shallow pool, Dave knows it will be able to survive in the wild and can be released. Some birds, depending on head, body, and neurological injuries, require several weeks or months to recover. Some simply do not progress to the point of release. Some will be placed as educational birds, others may simply be too damaged and are humanely euthanized.

We don’t know how long it will be until this eagle is releasable, but she will receive the best care and attention possible. We remain optimistic, knowing that the wing will likely heal with no problems, but the head injury could be the sticking point. There is absolutely no reason for an eagle to land in a road, so there may have been prior neurological or physical damage.

FFF’s protocol of extended flight periods inside the flight cage (the only flight cage in New York State equipped with a fishing pool) has resulted in excellent “viability” of released eagles.

By tracking various eagles released in the past, we’ve seen them resume normal, wild lives. And what stories they have to tell their friends!

   You can follow the Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center on Facebook at FFF Wildlife Center. Donations are always welcome.~