DANVILLE — When the immature bald eagle soared through the goalpost at the edge of a football field, it was a touchdown for those who worked for months to save the injured bird.
But when a second bald eagle was released, there would be no extra point.
On Aug. 19 the Pennsylvania Game Commission and officials from two wildlife rehabilitation centers released two immature bald eagles that, months before, were fighting to survive.
The first eagle, found after it had been blown out of its nest in Adams County, had no problem gaining altitude after it was released. The second, found dehydrated and unable to fly along railroad tracks in Danville in June, struggled to get airborne and glided into a patch of Japanese knotweed. It was recovered and will spend a few more weeks building up its strength at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center.
While it was hoped that both eagles would be successfully released, seeing one set free and the other gain a second chance was reason for optimism among those who worked with the birds.
That includes Peggy Hentz, director of the Red Creek Wildlife Center in Schuylkill Haven, who worked with the Adams County eagle that was successfully released.
After the eagle was blown from its nest during a wind storm, it sustained internal injuries and a broken wing. It was taken to a veterinary hospital for diagnosis before being transported to Hentz. She hoped the injuries would heal in time for the eagle could be taken back to the nest and released as a fledgling, but the process was too slow.
“Its wing wouldn’t fully extend so it needed more time for therapy to get the tendons to extend,” Hentz said.
After the internal injuries healed, the eagle was taken to the CCEEC to exercise in a larger flight pen. It also worked in a special cage designed to force the eagle to fly straight up, improving its ability to lift off the ground.
“We needed to see it be able to fly straight,” Hentz said. “It flew beautifully.”
And when Hentz opened the cage on Aug. 19 and watched the eagle soar through the goalpost and land high in a tree, she knew the weeks of rehabilitation were a success.
“This is the best part of the rehabilitation process, being able to set it free,” she said.
The second eagle will have to wait a bit longer for its day of freedom.
In June Kelly and Mark Catalano spotted the young bird along railroad tracks, far from a known eagle nest in the area. They checked the site for several days and the eagle remained, unable to fly. Eventually the eagle made its way to a nearby road and, concerned the bird would get hit by a vehicle, Mark Catalano gently guided it away.
“It wasn’t doing well. I threw it a piece of a roadkill and he devoured it,” Mark Catalano said. “But it got to the point where it wasn’t doing anything at all.”
Wildlife Conservation Officer Michael College collected the eagle and transported it to the CCEEC. The bird had no external injuries but it was re-hydrated and given time to exercise in the center’s 100-foot flight pen. When it was released on Aug. 19, the eagle was unable to gain altitude and it was clear it needed more time to build its strength.
Franklin Klock, a rehabilitator with CCEEC, removed the eagle from the knotweed where it landed without a struggle. He hoped the bird would improve in time to be released this year. Klock pointed out that the importance of keeping released rehabilitated raptors away from hazards in case that first flight doesn’t go as planned.
“If this had been near the river and the bird landed in the water, it could’ve been tragic,” he said.
Klock knew the eagle wasn’t ready when he noticed it flying at an angle after it was released.
“That was to compensate for its wing not fully extending,” he said. “The only way to fix that is more time in the flight pen. We’ll be proactive with him and get him to exercise quite a bit.”