The eagle has landed
Volunteers band together to nurse nation’s symbol back to health
The bald eagle—our national symbol—is usually equated to a sense of regal majesty. But the mighty bird needed a little human care on Christmas Day, when a young male eagle was found critically injured in the fields around Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, just outside Chico. And so began the chain of volunteer rehabilitators who, ahem, flocked to help nurse the bird, a protected species, back to health.
“It took an effort from everyone,” Roberta Kirshner, founder of the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation, said in a recent phone interview. Kirshner was the first to receive the bird from Animal Control, before calling on other friends for support.
“Roberta called me on Christmas, and asked, ‘What should we do with this?’” said Marilyn Gamette, a longtime local wildlife rescuer and founder of the nonprofit group Bidwell Wildlife Rehabilitation. Gamette, who’s rehabilitated a slew of animals—from mountain lions to hawks—in her program’s 40 years, says she’s helped roughly six bald eagles over the course of her work.
Gamette immediately hopped on board to aid the wounded raptor, but finding a physical facility to host him wasn’t so easy during the holidays. “We weren’t completely set up for him, but we took him in,” said veterinarian Dawn Alves, owner of Chico’s All About Pets Veterinary Hospital. A certified mixed practitioner for large and small animals who’s “dabbled in birds,” Alves said this was her first encounter with a bald eagle.
“The biggest problem, besides dehydration, was the bony vertebrae caught in his esophagus, probably from something he had eaten,” Alves explained. “Because of that, he couldn’t keep any food down.”
For the next week, the young raptor received quite an impressive series of treatments, beginning with an initial round of antibiotics, and including a procedure to remove the bony material stuck in his throat. Between the next round of medication, use of an IV and the constant care offered by Alves, Kirshner and Gamette, the eagle was in significantly better shape by New Year’s Eve.
“Dawn did an excellent job of further stabilizing the bird,” Gamette said.
It’s primarily this intense volunteer support that gets protected and endangered bird species back on their feet, Gamette and Alves explained. Gamette, who used her own funds to pay for the initial rounds of medication for this particular bird, said she can be reimbursed by the Butte County Fish and Game Commission—if she chooses to apply for a grant.
“There is not enough funding to pay for the care of these birds,” Alves agreed.
Once an endangered species, the bald eagle was taken off the Federal Endangered and Threatened Species list in 2007, but remains protected under federal laws, and the killing, selling or harming of the birds and their nests is illegal. “Not as much as a fingernail can be tampered with,” said Gamette. (That goes for talons, too.)
With federal initiatives such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protecting its livelihood, the eagle is “making a comeback,” said Lora Haller, park ranger and visitor services manager of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. She claims dozens can be seen every winter at the facility south of Willows.
“They follow the water fowl and come from Oregon and Washington, and in some cases as far north as Alaska,” she said.
This certainly is a big improvement from their endangered status, which can be traced back to mid-20th century practices including primarily the use of the agricultural insecticide DDT, Haller said. Although not fatal to adult eagles, the pesticide caused the thinning of egg shells, endangering their births. DDT has since been banned from usage in the United States and Canada, another factor contributing to the species’ recovery.
With the ongoing support from the wildlife-loving community, scientists are optimistic that the country’s bird will continue its impressive comeback. And for the local eagle that got its Christmas miracle, things are still looking up; it was transferred to the care of Roseville veterinarian Vicky Joseph, where it will soon have access to flight cages to further its rehabilitation. Gamette, who stays up-to-date on the bird’s recovery via Joseph, happily reports, “He’s in good care and eating on his own.”