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Home : News : Features : Display
NEWS | July 22, 2013

Teamwork returns eagle to the sky

By Tech. Sgt. April Wickes 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

He held the bird out in front of him and let her go; she flew low, gained height and continued to soar towards the James River. More than a month ago this eagle could not fly.

The eagle's road to recovery and freedom would take a dedicated team of people, medication, flight training and more than a month of healing, but she would fly again.

The eagle was discovered May 18 on Fort Eustis, Va., by two members of the community who contacted Christopher Griffin, 733rd Security Forces Squadron game warden, when they spotted it lying on its back with a possible broken wing off of Harrison Road, near the James River.

Griffin notified Timothy Christensen, 733rd Civil Engineer Division installation natural resources manager, and they went to investigate.

"When we went to assess the eagle, it was capable of standing and walking and very alert, but it could not fly, which meant there had to be something wrong with it," said Christensen. "You should never be able to walk right up to an eagle and it not fly away."

Although injured, Christensen said the eagle was still a challenge to capture, due to environmental conditions.

"It was difficult to capture the eagle due to the forested and swampy conditions," Christensen said. "It took [Chris and I] 30 to 45 minutes to capture it and bring it out of the woods to place in an animal carrier."

Since there was a good chance the eagle would survive, Christensen and Griffin sent it for rehabilitation.

As part of the rehabilitation process, the injured eagle was brought to military veterans James Beamer Jr. and his wife Pearl, directors of Sacred Friends Inc., a non-profit organization that takes care of sick and injured wildlife, who worked with veterinarian Dr. Tony Poutous from Midway Veterinary Hospital in Chesapeake, Va., to treat the eagle.

"Thankfully this eagle didn't have too many injuries," Poutous said. "There was some bruising and contusions, and her beak was chipped off a little bit, but nothing was broken."

Poutous prescribed antibiotics, rest and flight training for when the eagle began to recover. He then left the eagle in the care of the Beamers.

Pearl and James provided the eagle with a clean cage, fresh water, food and medication on a daily basis, hoping it would lead to a quick recovery.

"We injected antibiotics into the eagle's food, because it's less stressful on the animal to put the medication into the food," Pearl said.

Once the eagle underwent flight training and was healthy enough to fly without difficulty, she could be released back into the wild.

According to James and Pearl, it was evident the eagle was ready to return to its home.

"The eagle acted like it would rather be someplace else than here," said Pearl. "Every animal has a personality and each one's different; this eagle was not friendly and that's the way it should be."

Everyone involved in the rehabilitation met at Fort Eustis on June 22 to set the eagle free in her natural environment, close to where she was found. However, there was one more thing to do before the eagle could take flight. She would need to be banded.

Bands are primarily used to study and track the movement, survival and behavior of birds. The eagle was measured and fitted with two bands by Reese Lukei Jr., volunteer bird bander. One band was a U.S. Geological Survey band and another purple band identified the eagle as being from the Chesapeake Bay region.

Now she was ready to fly.

Poutous ensured he held the eagle correctly so she could take off without any problems, then let her fly back into the wild. She flew off heading to the James River and out of sight. Moments later, she was spotted with a fish in her talons.

Many of the onlookers were excited to see this eagle's flight and the return of its natural behavior. For James and Pearl, their role in the eagle's recovery held a deeper significance.

"[My wife and I] were both in the military and we support all the troops," said James. "My blood runs red, white and blue-to see this bird released on Fort Eustis was an added incentive."

Perhaps when people spot eagles flying high in the skies above Fort Eustis, they will remember this eagle's story and the teamwork it took to help her fly again.