How does an injured wild bird of prey become an ambassador for the natural world? Through the patience, knowledge, and skill of many people, including wildlife biologists, veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators, environmental educators, and volunteers. Each raptor at the McLane Center started out in life as a wild bird of prey, but is now non-releasable due to serious injury (typically a broken wing). No longer in their ecological role, the birds’ part now is to help people care about the natural world. One bird in particular has had a long journey from freedom to life as a captive bird: our bald eagle.
Our now 24-year old bald eagle came to New Hampshire Audubon in 1999 from the Adirondack Park Visitor Center. He had been found injured in July, 1998, in a marsh near Upper Saranac Lake, NY. After being captured by a wildlife biologist, he was treated by a veterinarian, who, after extensive consultation with other wildlife vets, removed the lower part of his badly broken left wing. Although we will never know how this eagle was hurt, we do know something about his history because of his ID bands.
This bird hatched in 1988 at a nest in London, Ontario, located north of Lake Erie. Like many eagles, he was banded as a nestling by raptor biologists. Eight years later, in March, 1996, he was captured on Upper Saranac Lake, NY by biologists from the NY State Dept. of Conservation and fitted with a radio transmitter as part of a study to find out where NY State’s wintering eagles were nesting. His territory turned out to be on nearby Middle Saranac Lake, at a site known as Bartlett Carry. That nest fledged one young eagle in 1997, but failed in 1998, the year the adult male eagle was injured.
Once he recovered from surgery, the long road to rehabilitation began. He first went to the Adirondack Park Visitor’s Center to be part of their education program, and then eventually came to New Hampshire Audubon in the fall of 1999. Education staff worked patiently with him to help him adjust to people, and made considerable progress in handling him. Some injured birds adapt very quickly to their changed situation, but others take longer. The eagle needed more individual attention than we could provide and its initial progress waned.
That all changed about two years ago, when Robert Vallieres made a personal commitment to prepare the eagle for presentations with the public. Armed with knowledge gleaned from books and articles, Robert also sought guidance from veteran wildlife rehabilitators Tom Ricardi (a retired Massachusetts Conservation Officer) and Maria Colby (founder and director of Wings of Dawn in Henniker, NH). In the beginning, Robert focused on helping the bird learn to tolerate people by spending hours in the eagle’s mew every week, cleaning, talking to him, and even reading to him.
As the wary bird learned to tolerate Robert’s presence, he was asked to do more in very small steps…coming to the glove to eat, stepping on the glove with one foot, then two feet, and eventually (after many months), standing on the glove for extended sessions. These days, he stands confidently on the glove, as long as it’s on the ground. The next big step will be to have him stay on the glove while Robert is standing and walking around.
Another important player in the eagle’s progress is Ron Leroux, who has spent every Sunday for the past several years caring for the birds and other wildlife at the McLane Center. Patience learned from many years working with horses gave Ron unique insight into working with sensitive and often fearful wild raptors. The eagle’s willingness to come to the glove is in part due to Ron’s calm manner (as well as the fresh salmon that Ron brings him each week!).
The raptors at the McLane Center – the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, Barred Owls, and Eastern Screech-Owl – are the backbone of the Center’s Education Programming. We invest hours in their care and handling to ensure their wellbeing. In turn, the birds provide us with rare glimpses into the wonder and mystery of the natural world, inspiring us all to take an active part in protecting it.