Eagle family takes flight after surviving predator attack
The eagle parents received antibiotic treatment for superficial puncture wounds that likely would’ve become infected if they’d remained in the wild. A likely scenario involved the adults working as a team to protect one or both eaglets from a raccoon, coyote or another predator.
A pair of bald eagles and their eaglet soared back into the wild last week in Aitkin County after the parents recovered from injuries likely inflicted by a raccoon or another predator.
The Donahue family, visiting their summer home on Clear Lake near Glen, found both the eagles unable to fly with obvious injuries on June 21. DNR Conservation Officer Lt. Robert Gorecki responded to capture the birds and bring them to Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation in Garrison for care.
“It’s a common time of year for babies to be in low branches and on the ground because they’re fledging and learning to fly,” Baratto said. “But we do see injuries and things like that, so we always check them and then try and get them back in the nest.”
When the adult male and female pair arrived in Garrison, however, Baratto said there was an immediate concern for their eaglets likely left behind, still learning to hunt from Mom and Dad. Back out to Clear Lake a vet technician and the DNR officer went — this time, accompanied by employees of Deerwood-based Bollig Tree Service. Sure enough, they located a nest occupied by two fledgling eaglets atop a 55-foot white pine. A tree service employee climbed and retrieved one of the two babies, while the other became frightened and flew away from the nest.
The eagle parents received antibiotic treatment for what Baratto described as superficial puncture wounds that likely would’ve become infected if they’d remained in the wild. While it’s impossible to know for sure, Baratto said a likely scenario involved the adults working as a team to protect one or both eaglets from a raccoon, coyote or another predator.
“The assumption would be one of the babies was on the ground at that point and they were trying to protect it,” Baratto said. “ … They’re like toddlers, you know. They crash and burn and they fall and their parents protect them, just like ours do. We just don’t get to interact with a family group of birds like that very often.”
The new flight pen at Wild and Free, which covers 100 feet in length and can be divided into three “rooms” for birds in the organization’s care, allows volunteers to secretly place mice and other food through hidden windows for the occupants to find.
“We didn’t have to do some of the prework of … chopping or ripping food up for a baby to be able to feed itself. We were just able to throw mice or whatever we’re feeding them in and the adults then took care of the baby,” Baratto said.
A DNR conservation officer for 15 years, Gorecki has tons of experience responding to calls of injured animals or those acting strangely, including eagles. But last week’s release did mark a first for the lieutenant.
“It was a pretty unique experience, and we’re glad to be a part of it,” Gorecki said during a phone interview Wednesday. “ … Certainly it is the first time that I’ve released two adults and a baby, the three of them all at one time. That’s unique.”
Gorecki said officers don’t receive formal training in handling nuisance animals, so two younger officers accompanied him to the release to gain experience.
“It is a lot of just learning by trial and error, learning from previous officers that you work with and in the field. And they’ll help teach you some of the tricks and ways of not only protecting yourself and protecting the animals when you’re capturing them, and of course, navigating releasing them,” he said. “ … I thought it was pretty fitting over the Fourth of July holiday, getting to release our national bird.”
Good and growing
The eagle family released last week is just one of the releases conducted by Wild and Free in recent days. Also back to their environments recently were foxes, raccoons, squirrels, bunnies and songbirds. It’s the time of year, Baratto said, when a variety of baby animals who came in for one reason or another are old enough to live on their own — but this year is shaping up to be one of the busiest ever for the rehabilitation organization. So far in 2021, Wild and Free recorded more than 700 intakes of injured or abandoned animals.
“Last year during COVID, we weren’t sure how things would go. But I think there were so many more people outside last year, which was amazing. We had record numbers and we are on the move to break those this year,” Baratto said. “ … It’s been awesome. We’ve got some interns this year, which they’re getting great experiences and they’re able to help us give better animal care and help the volunteers, who we’re so happy to have back this year because we could have very minimal volunteer support last year. So it’s been a really good year. It’s been a really busy year.”
In addition to the new flight pen, Wild and Free also recently added a new mammal pen and is in the process of fundraising for a second bear enclosure. The organization can always use more volunteers as well, Baratto said, for those interested in helping Wild and Free. Volunteers must be 18 years old or older.
“What has been cool is seeing how much people care. Because really, we don’t affect populations with what we do. It’s about the single animal and giving them a shot. And educating the public, because people need to know who needs help and who doesn’t,” she said. “ … In a time when everybody’s just been so stressed out and crabby, it’s just so nice to get that call — ‘We found a baby bird and we don’t want to do anything wrong, what should we do?’ You know, people care. And it’s nice to see.”
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .