Local organization comes to rescue of injured eagle

Craig Newan, OFES founder and Dr. Dan Hamet of Richmond Animal Hospital examine the eaglet’s injured right wing. Photo courtesy of Richmond Animal Hospital

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see a bald eagle soaring over the shores of Shelburne Bay, you know the sense of awe that these birds command.

Populations of these magnificent birds were decimated in the mid-20th century due in large part to the use of pesticides, DDT in particular. In fact, in the beginning of the 21st century, Vermont was the only one of the lower forty-eight states without nesting bald eagles.

Outreach for Earth Stewardship, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to providing care for injured birds of prey and providing wildlife education, partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Wildlife Federation, Central Vermont Public Service Corporation, and dozens of individual citizen volunteers to form what would become the Vermont Bald Eagle Reintroduction Initiative. Thanks to a plan to accelerate the eagles’ return to Vermont by the efforts of the late U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords, funding for the effort was secured.

The goal was to bring nestling bald eagle chicks from other states for Vermont’s future breeding stock. From 2004 to 2007, 19 eaglets were cared for and released under controlled conditions at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management area in Addison, with the hope they would return to nearby locations upon reaching maturity.

The summer of 2015 witnessed the beginning of a nest in Ferrisburgh by a pair of eagles, and this spring, the pair returned to start a family. The location was not the best in terms of privacy, as it was clearly visible from the road and soon attracted birders, photographers, and sightseers. Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department had to post signs warning people not to intrude on the nesting eagles.

As the season progressed, it became evident that there was a single chick in the nest. The farmer on whose land the nest tree was located, neighbors, and the community in general took this new family under their wing. Watching the eagle story unfold, they kept their collective eyes on their birds. Everything went smoothly until the morning of June 21, when the chick reportedly exited the nest and was spotted on the ground.

Warden Dana Joyal called OFES to check in on the nest. OFES founder Craig Newman determined that the nestling was indeed on the ground and had been injured in the fall. The bird was recovered and taken to OFES’s facility for examination.

Newman found the bird had sustained damage to its right wing, including broken primary flight feathers and soft tissue injury to the surrounding area. The broken feather shafts had been further compromised by maggots feeding on the flesh and blood in the emerging feather follicles.
Newman brought the eaglet to Dr. Dan Hament of Richmond Animal Hospital, who along with his staff provided daily treatments to get the wound cleaned out and facilitate healing. The hope was that the much-needed primary wing feathers would regrow and the young bird would not have to wait until the next season’s molt for new feathers.

The eaglet remained under OFES’s care until the end of July, when it was clear the growing bird needed a larger space to continue on the road to release. It was moved to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, Vt., where it remained until its return to the wild on Oct. 12 at Dead Creek.

The Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative started as a grassroots community effort and its natural progression has continued to take flight in precisely the way those who brought it to fruition imagined.

Community involvement like the concern for the Ferrisburgh eagles, the ongoing efforts by dedicated raptor rehabilitators, and Vermont citizens who hold dear the amazing beauty of bald eagles, are prime examples of what keep this mission thriving.

The next time you look up and see a bald eagle in flight, keep in mind it is only through all our efforts as members of the community that we will continue to be graced by their beauty.

OFES was established in 1989 and is located on Shelburne Farms. For more information on volunteering or donating to OFES, call 802-985-5612 or go to www.ofesvt.org.

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