WILDLIFE RESCUE

2 Baby Eagles Saved After Storm

The eaglets rescued in Gainesville weigh just more than eight pounds each and are being kept in a 30-foot-long pen.
The eaglets rescued in Gainesville weigh just more than eight pounds each and are being kept in a 30-foot-long pen. (By Edward Clark -- Wildlife Center Of Virginia)

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By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Two baby bald eagles found themselves on the ground after a windstorm blew through Prince William County last week, toppling their tree and their nest, according to wildlife specialists who scooped up the defenseless young birds and are trying to raise them.

A crew working on a housing development in Gainesville discovered the eaglets Friday near the edge of a lake on 300 acres of largely wooded land. Their nest, as well as the tree that had held it, were on the ground, according to Priscilla Joyner, a veterinarian at the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro. Workers contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in turn notified wildlife center staff.

"It just so happened that we were driving back from Washington, and we heard about this on our way back. So we decided to swing by to see if we could capture them," Joyner said.

When Joyner and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent arrived, they became concerned that the birds were too young to defend themselves from predators.

"At this point, they're so young they're not even at the stage where they'd fly on their own. They would just be sitting there waiting for mama to bring them food," Joyner said.

Joyner and another center worker devised a plan to use an old army blanket to wrestle the eaglets into a cage the work crew had purchased. The first attempt failed after the eaglets suddenly swam across the lake. But the sting of their encounter with the water shocked the birds enough that Joyner and another wildlife center worker were able to get them into the cage.

Joyner said one eagle parent was seen in the area as the babies were being captured.

The birds were uninjured but were clearly shaken by the chase, Joyner said. One eaglet was breathing heavily through its mouth, while the other seemed unable to sit up straight. "They were very stressed," Joyner said.

The eaglets each weigh about four kilograms -- or just more than eight pounds -- and are being kept in a 30-foot-long pen while center staff do blood and other tests to make sure there are no signs of disease or injury. The birds, who will be fed a diet of mice, rats and fish, will eventually be moved to a larger pen, where they can begin exercising their growing wings.

After years of languishing on the nation's endangered species list, bald eagles have increased their numbers in recent years. Expansion of protected habitat areas and a ban on a pesticide believed to harm the eggshells of many bird species have pushed the number of bald eagle pairs up to more than 7,000 nationwide.

Joyner said the center now takes in about 25 injured bald eagles a year. This year, the center tried to save another eaglet, but it did not survive.

Wildlife workers say the two newest eaglets could be ready for release into the wild, near their original nest, in about two months.


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