On July 30 at 11:00 a.m., a group of excited spectators at Long Island Park gathered around Ed Clark, the president and co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, to share in an exciting chapter of a local Bald Eagle’s life. The adult female was found by Conservation Officer Corey Harbor on June 12 at a landfill in Campbell County. He cautiously loaded the visually sick bird into a cage to transport her to the Wildlife Center. When the pair arrived at the trauma center, onlookers feared the seven-year-old eagle had already died.
Dr. Tarra Pierce, the admitting veterinarian, gave the eagle fluids and a heart-stimulation medication. While the newest patient at the Wildlife Center started her stay in an oxygen chamber, she eventually moved to an expansive 100-ft long flight cage. Throughout the following days and weeks, the eagle made an impressive comeback, regaining strength and stamina in preparation for Tuesday morning’s monumental flight.
This is the second time this particular eagle has been rescued from a landfill. Seven years ago, shortly after the bird first left its nest, she was found near a landfill near Charlotte N.C. She was extremely weak and emaciated, but was brought back from the brink of death at the Carolina Raptors Center. There the bird was banded, allowing her caregivers today to understand a great deal about this particular eagle’s habits.
Ed Clark commented, “Our national symbol has been saved from the brink of extinction once, but we don’t want to see it go back to that again.” The plight of Bald Eagles in Virginia is currently a success story. There were only 35 pairs at the lowest point in the late 1970s. Through conservation efforts on many fronts, the eagle population in Virginia has increased to somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 nesting pairs today.
The original habitat for the Bald Eagles, along the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal rivers is suffering. As the population of Bald Eagles expands, the birds are moving west and not enough fish is available in lakes and streams to take care of them. Hungry and in search of food, they are turning to places like landfills to scavenge for meals. Ingesting meat from animals killed by hunters and left behind is also a significant issue for these birds. The lead in lead-based hunting ammunition is toxic to the animals eating the meat, and there is a simple solution to this problem. People have removed lead from pipes and paint because we know how dangerous it is to us, but now we need to give the animals, including these majestic birds, the same consideration. Wildlife advocates urge hunters to stop using lead-based hunting ammunition and to instead purchase the non-lead alternatives which are readily available.
Watching the American icon Tuesday morning, once beaten down and almost dead, lift her eyes to the horizon and soar over the trees was a memorable sight. No doubt, she will remember those who cared for her and gave her a second chance to represent America as she flies over our little part of the world.