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Flying an Eagle

I have been a volunteer for the past 3½ years. During that time, we have had two Bald Eagles in rehab. Both were non-releasable. One went to Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, Utah and the other went to Dollywood in Tennessee. We had one rescue where the eagle was so severely damaged that it had to be euthanized. But, now we have “Lady Eagle” who is a releasable Bald Eagle in rehab and is ready for conditioning. I received a phone call from Barbara Hathaway asking if I wanted to “fly” an Eagle. At first I was a little hesitant because of the size of the bird and I didn’t know if I had the strength to do it, but I thought “Why not? Give it a try!”

So, on an unseasonably warm December afternoon the team assembled. For many of us, this was our first opportunity to handle an eagle. Our veterinarian, Dr. Pat, gave us some instructions before we began: #1 When retrieving the bird, always take a second person with you to help fold in the wings. #2 Lift the bird by the jesses higher than you normally would. The wingspan on an eagle is longer and you want to keep the wings from hitting the ground and possibly getting injured.  #3 If you can’t launch the eagle by throwing it in the air, place it on the ground. It can take off by itself.

There were quite a few of us that day so we worked out a lineup to handle the bird. Until it was our turn, we either helped braking or laying the line. Finally, it was my turn. I put on the “eagle gloves” which come up nearly to your armpits. I had no problem lifting the bird up from the ground and securing the wing closest to me. Ted Geers folded in the other wing (I see why a second person is needed!) and I had her secured. We walked back to the starting point.  My first toss was my best because my arms weren’t tired yet. Everybody gave me a “thumbs up”. That made me happy. I found that retrieving doesn’t take as much strength as launching the bird. After my third throw, my arms were exhausted and I passed my turn on to the next person. On the second round, I flew her twice. The team flew her a total of 40 times. She still wasn’t winded and could have flown more, but the humans had had enough.

When we creance fly a bird, we are helping the bird to regain its strength so that eventually it will be able to be returned to the wild. It is a very satisfying and fun thing to do. This particular session was also meaningful to me for another reason. I wasn’t sure that I was up to the task, but I found that I not only met the challenge, I was able to do a decent job of it. That was a great feeling!

The picture included with this missive is of me holding “Lady Eagle”. The picture is great because you get a true sense of scale. I’m 5’7” and the bird goes from my shoulders to my knees. Isn’t she magnificent?