With a tentative hop followed by a great leap into the air, a juvenile bald eagle took flight in a blur of feathers and talons Monday morning at Dogtown Lake outside of Williams.
Paul and Jan Osburne found the raptor weak and disoriented in a pond at their Pitman Valley home.
“He was really weak and walked into the pond and then swam across it, Paul Osburne said. "By the time he had swam the pond three times and not flown away we realized it was time to call Game and Fish.”
Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Manager Will Lemon ended up making the assist.
“He’s the hero. He was at our home within 30 minutes of us making the call and scooped it up with a blanket,” Jan Osburne said.
“He was weak, but he could still fly a little bit. We were able to chase him into a fenced garden area and then get him caught,” Lemon added.
The eagle was transported to the Liberty Wildlife Refuge in Phoenix, where it was discovered that lead poisoning was the cause of the bird’s erratic behavior and weakness.
“He came in and had all of this feather damage and chances are that was related to the lead poisoning too. Luckily people found him rather than him becoming prey for something else,” said Jan Miller, animal care coordinator for Liberty Wildlife. “Lead poisoning drops red blood cell levels so they become anemic, which leads to loss of energy and can have neurological damages too.
“We treated him with two rounds of chelation to absorb the lead. Each round is a five-day process followed by a five-day rest period. After that, we had to wait for his annual feather molt so that he could replace all of the damaged feathers that he had lost. That’s why we are just now releasing him six months after he was brought in.”
Miller said lead can come from sinkers left at the lake by fishers or from ammunition left in gut piles by hunters.
“We really try to recommend that people not use lead ammunition when possible. We actually give away free ammo in areas that have the California condors," Lemon said. "We don’t have a law saying that you can’t use lead, but at the moment we have an 88 percent participation rate with people hunting in the areas where condors may be present.”
Liberty Wildlife is a privately funded nonprofit that takes in injured wildlife from across the state. It was founded in 1981 and according to staff on the scene at the release, this bald eagle was the 103rd to be successfully rehabilitated and released in Arizona by the organization.
“We help everything from hummingbirds to bald eagles. Ninety percent of our work is with birds, but we treat everything from reptiles to mammals. So far this year we are up to 8,500 rescues,” Miller said.
After this rescue, Jan Osburne watched the eagle catch a thermal and rise up over the lake, heading toward a tree snag on the far shore.
“This is just wonderful that he’s out there flying around how it’s meant to be,” she said.
To contact Liberty Wildlife to volunteer or donate, go to libertywildlife.org.