In Sitka Eagles get free health care. The Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center cares for eagles and other birds who run afoul of humans, trees or each other. Each year the center takes in eagles. Some can be rehabilitated, some cannot and they either live out their lives at the center as teaching birds or are flown to centers outside Sitka. They become eagle ambassadors.
Several times each year the center releases eagles who have demonstrated, through physical exams and performance in the flight barns, that they can thrive the wild. The releases start in the spring with the herring runs and end in the fall with the salmon runs. The center does not release birds in the winter when food supplies are low. They want there to be plenty for the eagles to eat while they reacclimate to living in their natural habitat. Saturday’s was as the last release of the season.
Up to four birds were scheduled to be released. One didn’t make the cut so will winter over in the center. Before release the birds get a physical exam and, if they pass, they are hooded, taken out to a platform in the muskeg along the Raptor Center nature trail. The eagle is held while a volunteer removes the hood, then…
…the eagles take off, sometimes circle in a victory lap, sometimes light in a tree, but often head for Indian River and the salmon.
The first eagle to gain its freedom was Dusty. Dusty is an immature eagle who came from Haines it came in weak and undernourished. (I love the expression on the face of the woman holding the eagle.)
The second eagle was Luxor. Luxor came from Ketchikan and had a broken wing. The eagle gained strength in the flight barns and soared to freedom from the box in the muskeg.
The third eagle was Skewer. Skewer was famous in Sitka, his rescue was a public event. He was spotted in a tree, wing impaled on a branch. He was hanging from the wing. How that happened we don’t know. There is some speculation that he was backing off from an altercation from another bird. The fire department came with a ladder and, with an audience, Dr. Vicki, the Vet from the Raptor Center, climbed the ladder. The bird had not moved for some time and folks wondered if it had died. But when Dr. Vicki reached the bird it moved; it was alive. Dr. Vicki got the bird down from the tree but it had a hole in its wing. The center wondered if Skewer, the name was an obvious choice, would ever fly again. But the bird was strong and working out in the flight barn, it showed that it could fly, turn and maneuver even with a gap in its wing, which is obvious form some of the pictures below.