Deputies help zoo rescue bald eagle

This is not the first time the Salisbury Zoological Park came to the rescue of an injured bald eagle.

The two housed at the zoo no longer fly and are living their lives at the safe haven permanently.

The severely injured bird that arrived at the zoo Monday, Sept. 12, was treated and monitored overnight, then transported the next day for longtime care to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Delaware.

If all goes well, the eagle returns to the wild, likely to the Yacht Club Road region in western Wicomico County from where it was found helpless on the ground by a property owner.

If all does not go well, the adult bird, whose species is a national symbol of the United States, could join a permanent collection at a facility as the zoo.

"If it makes it, it would be released to the wild, and often you try to release it to near where it was taken," said Salisbury Zoo Director Ralph Piland. "If they can't survive in the wild, if they can't fly or hunt for themselves, they would look for a facility to care for them."

About 9 p.m., the property owner called the Wicomico County Sheriff's Office, which got in touch with Piland, who agreed to take the bird. News about the rescue spread quickly, and Piland, on a visit the next day to his dentist's office, "got a lot of questions."

"We are not set up to rehabilitate animals or take in wildlife, but at Tri-State, that's their specialty," Piland said. "The Sheriff's Office worked hard to help the animal, and given it was a bald eagle and the nature of the situation, we decided to help."

The bald eagle, with the characteristic white head and tail, is the nation's symbol and visible on the back of the U.S. quarter and on the presidential seal.

It was declared an endangered species in 1967 after the entire population of pairs, or couples, in the continental United States fell below 500, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Restoration included efforts in the Chesapeake Bay region.

By 2007, the overall population reached about 10,000 pairs and the bald eagle was removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.

"The bald eagle is still a vulnerable species," Piland said. "We have a greater cause to act."

Lt. Tim Robinson at the Sheriff's Office described the rescue as "very rare" for a routine day at work. The incident points to the unpredictable nature of the job, he said.

"The eagle was lying in a front yard and wasn't moving," Robinson said. In a large box, "we transported the animal to the zoo.

"It shows that we are out to save every life," Robinson said. "We do the job whether it is helping the community or a feathered friend."

The rescue helped save the eagle's life, said Tri-State executive director Lisa Smith. On Thursday, Sept. 15, the bird was listed in stable condition although Smith said a large wound on its chest exposes muscle, and recovery is expected to "take a long time."

"It would not have been able to recover on its own in the wild," Smith said. The eagle is about age 5, although it's gender is yet to be confirmed, she said. "By next week, we should start to see some healing of the wound. It's a wait and see."

Robinson said the eagle's injury was consistent "with an attack wound, an altercation with another animal."

Thanks to a relatively new, $2 million health facility, the Salisbury Zoo was equipped to treat and board the animal on-site, Piland said.

"Before the building complex, we probably wouldn't have had a facility to treat and hold the animal overnight," he said.

Two male bald eagles unable to survive in the wild became part of the Salisbury Zoo's permanent collection in 2011 and 2013, arriving from animal care facilities around the country.

Piland expects they will be a part of the zoo family for years to come. "They were born in 2001 and 2007, and eagles have a long life expectancy," he says. "It's not unusual for an eagle's total life to be 20 or 25 years."

On Monday, a zoo veterinary technician gave the visiting eagle an antibiotic for a potential infection, then the bird was fed a fish meal before settling in for the night.

"The eagle had a significant injury that looked that it had occurred some time ago," Piland said. "It was in a weakened condition, but it got up off the floor and could perch a bit. And it did eat a little bit — that's a positive sign."

On Twitter: @DTDeborahGates


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