Last week we asked Decorah watchers for their questions about the Decorah fledging that went to SOAR. Thanks to Kay and Dr. Dirks for answering them. Next week we'll ask for questions from Bob and Brett about development and fledge, so stay tuned!
Where will the eaglet be released?
This is a big leap to the end – IF he is able to be released… I think it would be an excellent idea to release him in the NE Iowa area. The exact location will depend a lot on the time of year. We will definitely be too late/too much time will have passed to expect that the Parents would take over any care or guidance. When the time comes we will do some consulting with our eagle experts (Bob and Brett) and find a spot where there is not a current eagle territory – just to avoid any conflicts there – usually the juvies are pretty safe. The big thing will be HABITAT – a good spot for scavenging and fishing. As we know from eagles with transmitters, eagles can travel long distances in short amounts of time. If he is able to be released, he will go wherever he wants to go.
How do you determine where to release the birds you find, especially if they have been held for a while?
Again – good habitat is what we look for so the birds will not have to work too hard for food. We also look at time of year and weather. Winter is hard for everyone so we hold most birds late November through to early spring for release. Along with the quality appropriate habitat type, we look for travel corridors such as a river. If we release in a resident bird’s territory, which we try very hard not to do, the released bird can easily move to a new spot through the corridor habitat.
What do you feed your eagles?
We need to mimic the things that they would be eating in the wild the best we can. This helps them to recognize what we are offering as food and is also completely nutritious. We try to give variety. Our eagles really seem to like carp – rough fish that most human anglers do not like to eat – so this helps us with donations of this type of fish. We salvage road killed deer – this meat is rich and dark – lots of vitamins and iron. We have a friend that provides some grown chickens and rabbits.
We start with hand-feeding our extremely ill patients. As they recover, they will eventually take food on their own.
The eaglet looks comfortable with humans. Does it try to bite or how does it react to handling?
A good question. Biting is involved when we need to handle him, so we have big gloves and we handle him carefully yet firmly. Overall comfort is an important part of our care.
Most of the time our intensive care or ICU patients are in carry crates so we can limit movement. Like humans in ICU units, these birds have severe, often life-threatening injuries or conditions. We provide climate control and make sure that food and water bowls can be seen and are accessible. We also need to be able to easily administer medication and capture our patients to change bandages and perform other necessary tasks. Of course as they feel better, they want out! When they are ready we have larger flight areas they move into for exercise pre-release.
This little eaglet would not sit still in a crate. So he is in our small ICU room, which gives him a bit more room to move around. He is quite comfy there right now.
What is the ICU and what does it look like?
Intensive Care is basically two large rooms and one smaller one that we heat and cool. Check SOAR’s web page for photos of SOAR facilities, including flight areas: www.soarraptors.org
How does the eaglet learn to fly and hunt absent parents?
If they are physically able to fly, they will fly. While skill is learned on the wing, flying and hunting are instinctual. SOAR has a 100 X 20 foot flight area for our eagles. After bone healing is complete, which could take approximately eight weeks or more, our patient will spend time in this large flight area with our other eagles. We have Spirit and Liberty, a bonded pair of non-releaseable education bald eagles that have fostered two different eagle chicks so far in their own large enclosure. He will not need to be fed, but they can model socialization, vocalizations, and eagle behavior. He is well past the age when he would imprint on humans, so we have no worries there. He is not going to like us no matter what!
It's my understanding that bald eagles can present unique challenges in housing and handling. If so, can you elaborate a little?
They are big and powerful. So housing requires large spaces. Handling requires experience and protective gear, including gloves, goggles, and a heavy coat.
What particular challenges do you anticipate during the Decorah eaglet's rehab, both short term and long term?
We have crossed several hurdles. He survived his initial injuries. His fracture was not compound (bones sticking out of the skin) and was not too severe to surgically stabilize. He went through a successful major surgery. He’ll be on antibiotics to prevent infection and the next step is eating on his own.
After about three weeks of healing, we will head back to Dr. Dirks for another x-ray to determine the amount of healing and whether or not we can remove the pin. If we can, he’ll have another three to four weeks of limited movement, but no flight attempts yet, since we need to make sure everything is solidly healed. After that, he’ll need physical therapy to get muscles into shape, and of course he’ll need to grow a tail back and we don’t know how long that will take. We will have to see how it goes/grows!
What percentage of eagles make a full recovery and can be released back into the wild after an injury like this?
We don’t have an answer for that off the top of our heads. We’ll have a better prognosis at the three week check up.
What is the gender of this eagle?
Judging by size, Dr. Dirks and I both think it is a male.
Will P's recognize it and care for it or will it just be another eagle to them now?
He is in for a quite long recovery period. He will be with us too long for the parents to be in the mode of caregiving and he will be too old to need them. I don’t know if they will be able to recognize him or not.
How much of the hunting skills are learned vs instinct?
Instinct gets them started hunting and experience hones skill, since there are rewards for doing certain things and disappointment for doing others.
Do you feel that the break in his/her humerus was due to the owl attack?
This break is way up in the shoulder area – there is a lot of muscle around the bones there. Owls look big – but they are big puff balls – mostly fluffy feathers. These eaglets out-weigh owls by a lot. There were no puncture wounds near the break area. I don’t think owls could have done this. Dr. Dirks and I discussed this a bit. This break would take quite a bit of trauma – like being hit by a car. But we just have no way to know for sure what happened. His feathers were grown in well enough to glide/fly from the nest, so it is doubtful leaving the nest would have resulted in this type of break either. [Amy's note: Bob made a similar observation after handling "Four", the fledgling formerly known as EWT. He also confirmed that the eaglets were developed enough to fly].