Usually we share our successes. Now and again we might share stories of patients whose injuries were so severe that the only care we could provide was to end their suffering, but we don’t often take our supporters and community members through that process. It’s our task and we perform it as we need to, without regret, because it is a simple fact of wildlife rehabilitation that most of our work consists of ending the suffering of animals still alive but battered, sometimes beyond recognition, let alone repair.
Also, we don’t often share the stories of animals who are still in care. The primary reason is that for wild animals, captivity itself is life threatening. The stress of being in a caregiver’s hand can be too much for a songbird – sudden misfortune, or setbacks in care, can derail a patient’s recovery. Building expectations of happy resolution that doesn’t come seems unnecessary. Also, it’s simply a cultural standard that we don’t count our proverbial chickens before they’ve hatched.
So, with all that in mind, here is the story so far of this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) who we admitted for care a few days ago.
Last Friday evening, BAX co-founder Laura Corsiglia and one of our long time volunteers met a Warden from California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in Willow Creek to accept a Bald Eagle who’d been in care in Weaverville since June of 2016.
Our first glimpse of young Bald Eagle, after meeting CDFW staff in Willow Creek. Although young and disabled, this bird is still formidable!
It is unknown how the young Eagle was injured. According to the Trinity Journal, the fledgling was found at Trinity Lake at the bottom of a tree with an Eagle nest, suffering with multiple fractures of his left wing. (While it isn’t certain, we believe the bird is a male based on his size which is at the smaller end of the spectrum of Eagle sizes.) At the time he was found, a CDFW warden in the area took the fledgling to a veterinarian in Weaverville. Near death due to dehydration and lack of parental care, the Eagle was stabilized by the staff.
For reasons we are not sure of, the Eagle’s treatment continued in Weaverville over the Summer of 2016 into the Winter. In December CDFW staff attempted to transfer him to our facility in Humboldt County (Trinity County is our neighbor to the East) but a rock slide had closed Highway 299 east of Willow Creek, barring passage. Several attempts were made over the next few months to get past the slide during temporary openings without success until last Friday, the 10th of March.
Once in care, immediately BAX staff could see that this Eagle’s left wing was seriously damaged. Multiple fractures to the humerus, radius and ulna have healed with very poor alignment. His wing cannot function at all, nor can he hold it in anything close to a normal position. At this point, only extensive surgery could save this bird’s life let alone help him recover to the point of being releasable.
Our patient after his first day in our care. We immediately contacted the wildlife biologist at USFWS responsible for Migratory Bird permits who grants our permit to rehabilitate birds. We stay in close contact with her any time we treat a specially protected species (most birds are protected under various laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act) such as the Endangered Species Act, or, in this case, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
However, this Eagle has been in care for nine months, and since we have one avenue that may give him a chance, we’ve decided to try even though it’s an extremely long shot. Bird Ally X co-founder and co-director, Dr. Shannon Riggs, DVM, who is Director of Animal Care at Pacific Wildlife Care near San Luis Obispo, is a highly accomplished avian orthopedic surgeon – her evaluation of his wing and his chances for a successful surgery are worth seeking. With the approval of the USFWS we’re transporting this bird to her care at that facility this week.
He has a difficult road ahead with the odds stacked heavily against him. If he were a patient like any other, we would likely have already made the decision that further treatment would be unlikely to help and would only compound the misery of captive life.
While his prognosis for recovery is very poor, and his current condition is so poor that humanely ending his suffering may be the only possible outcome, we believe it is worth it to exhaust all possibilities. We will be posting updates as his care proceeds.
The damaged wing is presumably painful and drags on the ground causing secondary wounds. Soon, however, this limbo will end – hopefully with good news, but at least his suffering will be over no matter which direction his care goes.
The care for any injured and orphaned wildlife here on the North Coast wouldn’t be possible without your support. For this patient, when we factor the cost of transport to a facility 500 miles away, the cost of surgery, the cost of rehabilitation post-surgery (here’s hoping!) we will need your help more than ever. We already have a goal for March of $7000 that doesn’t include the care of this young Bald Eagle. Want to help? Donate here. Thank you for supporting our work!