Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

March 31, 2009

An Eagle Exam

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:26 pm

When a Bald Eagle gets hurt in the line of duty around these parts, there’s a good chance that Dave Hogan will be involved in the recovery efforts. Dave is a raptor (bird of prey) specialist, falconer, and rehabilitator so he’s always there to assist dozens of ill-fated hawks, owls, vultures, and falcons throughout the year. Once or twice a year he gets the call to assist with recovering and nurturing an unfortunate eagle incapacitated by an injury.  Fortunately, this time I got the call – from Dave – that he needed to take an eagle in for an examination and he wanted to know if I could come along. I, of course, thought about it for exactly one-tenth of a second, and was on my way.

Dave recovered the bird earlier in the day at the Monroe Power plant along the Lake Erie shore. Hundreds of eagles overwinter at the site, so it is almost inevitable that one or two will accidentally run into something. An immature eagle was discovered on the grounds with an apparent wing or shoulder injury. He was able to get the bird in hand and put a temporary wrap around the wing to stabilize it. These big boys require an expert to handle them, so when I say “get the bird in hand,” it sounds so much easier than it really is. Once tackled, there is an immediate need to get control of those massive talon-armed feet. The equally formidable beak is of secondary concern, believe it or not. All this needs to be done with an eye towards keeping the bird’s stress level down and the captor’s health level at even keel.

We headed up to the Canton Center Animal Hospital with the eagle laying within a dog carrier sitting on the back seat of the truck. Amazingly, she was passive and quite relaxed, which is not always the case. This one never issued a peep during the whole examination process even though there was a definite fire glowing inside those pale eyes. Dr. Andy Granowski and a few assistants met us at the door and we carried the cage into the exam room and onto the metal table.

Grabbing those talons in one hand, with a finger between the legs as a spacer, the eagle was pulled out and un-wrapped. Dr. G gave it a once over and flexed the wing. The general consensus was that the bird had bruised, or possible broken, her coracoid bone – a bone similar to our collar bone.  There was no sign of external injury, on the bird that is. I couldn’t help noticing that the hands and arms of the veterinarian and his aides were covered with fresh and recently healed scratches. It looked as though they had stuck their appendages into a bramble thicket. I guess working with domestic animals can be as, if not more, hazardous as handling the wild ones.

It was quickly determined that an X-ray was needed to confirm the coracoid diagnosis. An anesthesia cone was slipped over the eagle’s face to put it to gentle sleep (see here and below)   After a few minutes those fiery eyes closed and the creature lapsed into an even heavy breathing (see here). It was carried over to the X-ray table (see here), centered in the projected light “window” and the shot was taken.

While the film was developing, I had time to give the eagle a good examination myself. She weighed 10 1/2 pounds, which puts it into the small female size range but there was some uncertainty. I dubbed  her with the neutral gender name of “Cory” just in case. She appeared to be a 3 year old individual based on a number of features. The beak, not yet at the bright yellow hue of the adult, was the color of a blond cow horn with light brownish streaks. Her eyes were pale straw yellow and the feathering on the head looked to be frosted with cream highlights. In fact, the whole body feathering was speckled with light tan, white, and dark brown. Only the thigh feathers were solid eagle brown. A look at the open wings (see here) revealed an even row of newer secondary feathers and there was a single growing feather, called a blood quill, just coming in on the left wing (see here).  All these features point to a so-called “Basic II” or an individual in her third year of life.

The X-ray (see below) delivered some good news. It revealed only slight damage – a tiny “green” fracture – on the coracoid and no other major injuries. On the image, you’ll notice the left “collarbone” (coracoid) is whiter than the the left one. This effect was caused by blood filling the hollow bone as a result of the trauma. Also, the doc pointed out the lack of testes in the body cavity, so the female identity was accurate.

I had a chance to cradle her like a baby as she came out of the anesthesia. Dr. Granowski gave her a final look over (see below) before I picked her up. At 10 pounds she was heftier than most human babies, but the feel was the same. But the 101 degrees F.  body temperature and distinctive fishy odor made this “baby” a sweaty smelly handful.

The treatment, in this case, consisted of  tightly wrapping the wing and allowing the fracture heal on it’s own. Basically we are talking bed rest with fluids and some anti-inflammatories. Dave would be the bird’s caretaker for the next few weeks to insure the healing process.  He was obviously relieved that this one would probably be released back into the wild to live to a ripe old age (30 plus for eagles). Until that release time comes, Cory couldn’t be in better hands.


  1. I think this story about the eagle as well as the other articles on this blog site are wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Comment by Mary Lou White — April 5, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

  2. Rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, scissors beats paper, and apparently cheese beats towel.

    Comment by Warner Berrio — February 16, 2012 @ 6:36 am

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