Sun brightens scenic eagle release
November 15, 2018
Backdropped by eager spectators with super zoom lenses and the Jilkaat Kwaan dancers donned in clan regalia, bald eagles 18-483 and 18-522 took flight on Saturday for the first time as newly rehabilitated birds.
Sunbeams punched through the clouds as the eagles ascended in pumping soars amid shafts of light toward the Chilkat Mountains. The crowd stood still, then remembered to cheer. Success.
"It was one of the most beautiful releases I have ever seen," said Sidney Campbell, raptor program manager at the American Bald Eagle Foundation, who hosted the event as part of its 24th annual Alaska Bald Eagle Festival.
The birds, a juvenile less than one year old and a sub-adult about two years old, were rehabilitated for the past few months at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center (TLC) in Anchorage. Bird TLC has partnered with the ABEF since 1994 to release rehabilitated eagles during their November festival. Each year, the organization estimates they rehabilitate about 60 eagles.
As a rule, the clinic doesn't attribute names to the birds, to avoid attachment and ownership over wild animals that will eventually be released. The juvenile, called bald eagle 18-483, was captured in August by Bird TLC's director near the clinic after it was observed for a few days on the ground. It had no injuries, and was fed and monitored before being brought to a flight center facility, according to the organization.
"He might have left the nest, and just wasn't quite ready to leave it," Bird TLC veterinarian Karen Higgs said. The juvenile was put with an older eagle in the flight center, where he learned how to fly. The sub-adult, 18-522, was rescued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Soldotna and flown to the Anchorage clinic in September. Higgs told the CVN the eagle was thin and lethargic, and was given fluids and cage rest. Higgs said the group releases the eagles in the same area they found them when they can, but there are often other considerations for the best outcome for the bird.
In this instance, the juvenile and sub-adult were selected for release in Haines because of their young age.
"They're not adults, they don't have a lot of (or any) hunting experience, and Haines has the food resource all year, whereas we don't in Anchorage," Higgs said. "And there's a big population of eagles that they will learn hunting and flying skills (from)," she added.
As part of the fundraiser for the foundation, the opportunity to open a wooden cage and release the eagles was offered by auction. Jessika Read from Anchorage and Jenne Grant from Oregon bid highest, at $650 and $690.
The festival spanned four days and included guest lectures, Alaska Native song and dance performances. The eagle release signified the event's finale, which officially came to a close on Saturday night at a banquet attended by about 100 guests, Campbell said.