Bald eagle released at Ohio's Hocking College

By LARRY DI GIOVANNI, The Athens Messenger
NELSONVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A young bald eagle took flight toward a tree line at noon on Thursday at Hocking College, just a stone’s throw from the college bookstore and near the Hocking River.
A gathering of about 50 students and faculty watched, waited and celebrated a release coordinated by the Ohio Wildlife Center in Columbus, as the rehabilitated bird of prey finally stepped out its cage, extended its impressive wings and showed what flying skills eagles are made of.
The journey of the eagle’s path toward recovery — involving the will to live and fly again, and lots of human kindness to make that happen since mid-May — is quite remarkable.
The juvenile bald eagle — known for their spots on feathers before they reach adulthood — was discovered on May 15 by Stony Joy, a state Department of Transportation worker who was mowing some lawn along the Route 33 bypass to Nelsonville just inside the Hocking County line. It was sitting in the brush near a fence, emaciated, in distress and weak.
“I thought he was injured, but I think he was just starving,” said Joy, who beamed with happiness in seeing the eagle released into the wild four months later.
When he first saw the bird, Joy thought it might be a hawk. He stayed with the bird while he called David Sagan, a Wildlife Management instructor at Hocking College who runs its Nature Center that is known to care for wildlife.
In fact, it was Sagan, aided by student volunteers, who has cared for animals that have included red-tailed hawks, with one of those hawks still housed at the Nature Center. That hawk is male and has injuries which mean it can never be released back into the wild.
But in the case of the young juvenile eagle found next to a fence along the bypass, Sagan knew that time was of the essence to get it help — and fast. Sagan wasn’t alone when he went to retrieve the bird.
“Sagan and two of his students picked up the eagle from ODOT and drove nearly two hours to our hospital facility in Columbus for treatment,” said Jarod Anderson, external relations manager with the Ohio Wildlife Center.
One of the initial beginner classes Sagan teaches is proper animal handling. It served him and the eagle well that day.
“The bird was trying to flee but was trapped by the roadside fence,” Sagan recalled. “I was able to grab the bird without being injured and without further injuring the bird. I called (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) District 4 headquarters and told them I had an eagle and was going to take it to the Ohio Wildlife Center.”
Sagan continued: “They were aware there was a bird that was more than likely an eagle, but did not have anyone who was free to check it out. It became a very long day for me, but I understood the best chance for this bird was to get it to Ohio Wildlife Center.”
Anderson said the path to survival for the eagle was an uphill one, but it started with Sagan’s life-saving gesture. When the eagle arrived at the Ohio Division of Wildlife hospital in Columbus, it was thin, weak, and had “a number of blunt-force injuries,” he remembered. It may have been grazed by a vehicle, but will still intact and had managed to avoid major wing damage.
“Treatment began with IV fluids infused with B12 vitamins, as well as a number of other medications and nutritional supplements,” Anderson said. “X-rays and bloodwork followed, indicating exposure to the West Nile Virus. Tube feeding was necessary because the eagle lacked the strength to eat on his own. With months of care, he stabilized, regained his strength, and was ready to continue down the path of rehabilitation.”
Eventually, the eagle was taken to the Ohio Bird Sanctuary in Mansfield for its final stage of rehabilitation. The bird sanctuary has large, octagonal-shaped aviaries that are tailor-made for birds attempting to practice and regain “full flight status.”
“This story illustrates what’s best about our mission, seeing donors, friends, volunteers, professionals, and partner organizations coming together to save a life and keep one more wild eagle flying through Ohio skies,” he emphasized.
The rehabilitation of the bald eagle helped by a Hocking College wildlife instructor also demonstrates how well the bald eagle is doing in Ohio, Anderson said. By the late 1970s they were almost extinct in the state, with just four breeding pairs in 1979. Efforts at conservation and wildlife education involving bald eagles took root in Ohio and other states, succeeding to a point where an estimated 221 breeding pairs in the state produced 312 offspring last year.
This year, the Ohio Wildlife Center has treated four bald eagles, its highest total over the past five years.
“The Ohio Bird Sanctuary’s octagonal flight cage provided the final step to recovery, allowing the eagle to practice more complex maneuvers such as turning and banking,” Anderson, skills that were displayed upon its release at Hocking College as it took flight along a tree line next to the Hocking River. “This stage of recovery is vital to ensure that the eagle will be a successful hunter upon his return to the wild.”