Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bald Eagle Release - May 2014 - Audubon Society

My family and I were witness to an amazing and beautiful event this past month.  An injured bald eagle was released after going through rehabilitation at the Portland Audubon Society .

She was found on West Hayden Island, appearing to have been injured by another eagle during a territorial fight.  She was discovered by a hiker who called the Audubon Society to come pick her up.  Upon further examination, they discovered that she was previously shot by a pellet at some point in her life, and also had a fracture to one of her wings, on top of the puncture wounds on her feet and nerve damage to her other wing by the recent fight.  The worst of all discoveries, she had sustained injury to one of her eyes and only had partial vision.  As a bird, this is typically "the end" of their life in the wild.  However, upon further examination they discovered that this was an old injury and she had been surviving in the wild with it for quite some time.   She was an amazingly strong bird and seemed to be fit to return to the wild after rehabilitation.  You can read more about her story here:  Rescued Eagle

We arrived at Kelley Point Park which is just across the river from West Hayden Island.  She was a nesting bird on the island and had a mate prior to her injuries.  They chose to release her at the park across from the river to allow her to regain her bearings.  They weren't sure if she would fly when they opened the crate, but all that were surrounding her to see her back in her natural habitat were hopeful.  After speaking about her a bit, giving us a back story, we witnessed the release:

You can imagine how pleased everyone was to see her take off right away.  She headed in the direction of the island and at that moment, we thought we'd never see her again.  The crowd of people started walking towards the path she had just flown.  We soon discovered that she was up in a tree, next to the river, taking in her surroundings.

We were told not to be alarmed if crows started attacked her, as once she regained her bearings, she would surely make them her first meal out in the wild.  Within a minute a crow began to attack her, but she seemed to not be bothered by the pest.   The crow would grab branches of the tree and drop them on the eagle, dive bomb her and continuously "caw" trying to get the attention of other birds.  The eagle just sat and watched.

We watched the crow pester the eagle for awhile, and then the somewhat harmless interaction became a little more threatening.  We started hearing the calls of another eagle and an osprey.  Both were coming into the area to see what all the fuss was about.

Before we know it, another female bald eagle is coming in for a landing right near the tree that the other eagle is sitting in.  The osprey is diving and encircling the new female eagle and creating quite a scene, which ends up distracting the crow.  The crow then begins to go after the new eagle and the osprey.  It seemed as though the new eagle came over to help distract and protect the released eagle from the other birds, but that was questionable as the female eagle very well could have been a threat.

The released eagle looked on while the commotion was happening just outside of her tree:

After a bit, the new female eagle took off and took the pesky crow and osprey with her.  All seemed calm as the released eagle sat in the tree, grooming herself, taking in her surroundings.

Not long after the peaceful moments of watching the eagle groom herself and relax for a bit, the crow came back, creating quite the dramatic scene.  Again, dive bombing the released eagle, at one point even knocking her off balance.  She regained her footing and continued to sit while he continued to make his loud "caw" sound.  The anxiety was building in the crowd as we knew this would attract other birds, and it wasn't long after that the eagle returned. 

She circled in and landed on the branch right next to the released eagle.  It was a bit tense as the eagles both fluffed their feathers and made sounds towards one another, keeping their mouths open as you can see in the second pic.  This lasted for several minutes.  We were waiting for a fight to possibly break out, but shortly thereafter the eagle took off again.

We could hear the osprey returning and indeed, it had followed the eagle back to the area the released eagle was sitting:

The second female eagle perched just above the released eagle while the osprey dove towards the tree.   At this point, the group of people watching collectively agreed that it seemed that the second eagle was not there as a threat to the released eagle, but as a distraction and protector.  Several times she had deterred the other birds from the newly released bird and even positioned herself to be the target.  She was a bird from the same island that the released bird was from, but we are unsure of how she may be related to the released eagle.

You can see the osprey through the tree just above the second female eagle.  This interaction continued for several minutes with the osprey diving towards the eagles.

After a few minutes of this interaction, the birds both looked in the direction of some more woods that were over to our right.  The released bird took flight for the second time since being released and they both went in that direction together.   (No photos, however, as I was in awe watching them fly away together. This was the last photo I took of them before they flew off).

It was an amazing experience, being up close and person to two bald eagles.  Watching the natural behaviors of the crow, osprey and eagles was fascinating for all of us.  This was most definitely a once in a lifetime event.  Something none of us will ever forget.  So many tears were shed.  Nature is truly beautiful. 

Be sure to support the Portland Audubon Society.  Volunteer, donate & take a field trip out to their location to see what they do. 

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