Golden eagle flies free

The golden eagle being released from the carrier outside by a person after rehabilitation
After nine months of rehabilitation, a once-grounded eagle returns to the wide-open skies over the Grand Canyon.
By Sarah Thornton

It was late February when the rehab team at Wild Friends, Best Friends’ state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, got a call about a golden eagle grounded on the side of an Arizona highway. The large bird was in distress, and no matter how he flapped and struggled, he couldn’t get into the air. He needed help, and the rehab team and Sanctuary veterinarians were ready for him the moment he arrived.

[Baby hummingbird flies free]

At first, it seemed like he must have been hit by a car. It is, unfortunately, not uncommon for birds who find an “easy meal” on the road to eat enough to weigh them down and then be unable to escape oncoming vehicles. His crop (a part of the esophagus where birds store food) was so inflated, the rehab team worried it might have been punctured and was filling with fluid, but it was all food. It turned out he had lead poisoning, likely from eating something with lead shot in it, and that was causing gastrointestinal stasis; the food couldn’t pass through his system.

Two surgeries to save an eagle

Veterinarians performed emergency crop surgery on the eagle to clear it out and get him on the road to recovery. He ended up requiring a second surgery, and he needed to be kept under close watch in intensive care for several months. During that time, his flight muscles atrophied from disuse, so once he had recovered from his surgeries, he needed some strength training before he could return to the wild.

[Life in captivity? Quoth the ravens, ‘Nevermore’]

Wild Friends staff moved the eagle into a large flight building where he would have plenty of space (and perches of various heights) to stretch his wings and practice his takeoffs and landings. He started with one awkward lap and then another — until, finally, nine months after he’d arrived at the Sanctuary, he was flying back and forth with ease. He was ready to go home.

A grand release

Wild Friends reached out to the Arizona Game and Fish Department to find an appropriate place to release the golden eagle, and together they picked the perfect spot: Gunsight Point at the Grand Canyon. The rehab team carefully loaded up the eagle, drove him out to the cliffs not far from where he’d been found, and set down his carrier.

The moment the carrier was opened he was off, flapping hard before diving down into the canyon below. His audience watched him until he was out of sight, free once again to go wherever his wings could take him.

Help more animals go home

Wild animals in rehabilitation or pets looking for new families, they often need our help. By joining Best Friends, you can support them on their road home.

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