A couple months ago I visited the Northwoods Wildlife Center (NWC), a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Minocqua, to visit an eagle that had been grounded due to injuries.
I watched as it struggled to fly and gain elevation in a huge enclosed flight facility that resembles a large warehouse.
On that day it was questionable whether or not the eagle would ever regain its ability to soar among the clouds.
But last Wednesday, that’s just where I saw that very eagle, gliding high in the sky above Plum Lake near Sayner, and that breathtaking sight was the conclusion of a very long and arduous journey home for that bird. It was also a testament to the amazing feats accomplished by the rehabilitators at the NWC.
A week after the fourth of July, the NWC got a call from a woman on Plum Lake who had taken a row boat ride out to one of the islands on the lake. When she let her dog out to run around she encountered a peculiar sight.
“This eagle came out of the bushes, hungry, and that’s when they called us,” said Amanda Schirmer, an advanced wildlife rehabilitator for the NWC.
The NWC quickly dispatched staff out to the island to recover the grounded eagle and bring it to the center for an examination. The exam revealed some very serious wounds.
“We believe it was either hit by a firework or hit by lightning, one of the two,” Schirmer said. “He had a burn running down his chest and across one of his wings, and he also had a broken bone, which would be the ulna, that had actually started to heal already at that time.”
Based on the wounds, the NWC speculated that the bird was injured sometime around the fourth of July and therefore the eagle was referred to as Uncle Sam.
Once at the NWC, Uncle Sam was given immediate medical attention.
“We did some wound treatment on the burn to make sure that that didn’t get infected. He had some antibiotics and luckily the bone was already healing in a proper position after x-rays,” Schirmer said. “So we really just had to wrap the wing and let it sit for about a month and it healed all on its own at that point.”
From there, Uncle Sam was monitored in a small enclosed area at the NWC.
“We wanted to see his movements out there to make sure he was OK,” Schirmer explained.
Uncle Sam proved to move alright on the ground and it was determined there was no further nerve damage, so he was then moved to a large flight facility at the center which is a huge open spaced building where there is enough room for birds to take full flight.
Once in the big flight building, Uncle Sam could only fly low for short distances and he struggled to gain elevation.
“At first he was very short flights only,” Schirmer said. “We were worried he was non-flighted. But after about a month he started all of sudden flying up to his high perches. So that’s when he told us he was going to be good to go.”
Uncle Sam spent another month or so exercising in the big flight facility before he was taken last Wednesday to the Plum Lake Golf Club, on the shores of Plum Lake, for release.
He was transported there in a large wooden crate and once the top of that crate was removed Uncle Sam wasted no time in his return to the open sky. He immediately took off and was perched high in a nearby tree within seconds. There he got his bearings and after another minute he was soaring over the lake as if he had never been injured.
Uncle Sam was soon out of sight, most likely heading to the island from which he came, possibly to reunite with another very special eagle.
During his week on the ground after the fourth of July, a female eagle was spotted perched on the same island. That eagle was most likely Uncle Sam’s mate and she was taking care him.
“We believe that she was feeding him because there was fish carcasses out there,” Schirmer said. “So we think that’s why he did so well during that one period because he was in a predator proof area on an island and he was also being fed.”
Despite his harrowing ordeal, Uncle Sam proved to be a very lucky bird. He did get burned and suffered serious injuries, but it happened in a relatively safe area, he had a mate nearby to feed him, the broken bone he suffered began to heal on its own correctly, and he was spotted by a passerby.
“Everything turned out in the right conditions for this eagle to come back here today,” Schirmer said.
But his greatest fortune was the NWC was called and provided a place for him to be medically treated and recuperate at, and the NWC staff couldn’t have been more thrilled with the outcome.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see that,” Schirmer said. “Because all the hard work we put into it. It’s really nice to see that come out the way it’s supposed to, but it’s also nice to see these birds go back to where they’re supposed to be.”
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]elandtimes.com.