Reprinted from the Duluth News Tribune, December 19, 2009
Ben Wilson was a very happy raptor handler on Thursday.
Wilson, a volunteer at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center in St. Paul, was taking photographs of Harley, the injured bald eagle, as it took flight while tethered on a 300-foot cord called a creance.
“He looked really good. A lot of times they [rehabilitating birds] just stop flying when they feel the weight of the rope,” Wilson said. “But Harley was so strong — he kept climbing all the way to the end. He was aiming for some trees off in the distance.”
Harley has been recovering from lead poisoning and wing surgery for four months. And Wilson said volunteers at the Raptor Center needed some good news.
“Recently we had five [eagles] come in and none of them made it. So it’s nice to have a success story like Harley,” he said.
Julia Ponder, executive director of the Raptor Center, agreed that Harley is recovering well. If the bird continues to progress, Ponder said he is on schedule to be released in a matter of weeks.
“He is flying very well at this point; it looks good,” Ponder said, adding that the recovery time has been “typical” for an eagle with multiple issues.
Harley could be released in Northwestern Wisconsin, where he was found, or farther south, near other eagles that have migrated to find open water, Ponder said, depending on how long his recovery continues into winter.
Harley was found Aug. 3 along Douglas County Highway T near Wascott by Harley Davidson motorcycle rider Brian Baladez of Cloquet. The bird appeared injured, disoriented and was unable to fly.
Baladez captured the bird in his leather jacket and used a bungee cord to secure it to the saddle bags of his motorcycle and drove it 50 miles to Duluth.
Harley eventually was taken to the Raptor Center, where experts found he was suffering from lead poisoning and an old wing fracture. They named him and nursed him back to health from the lead poisoning. Veterinarians later had to do surgery on the wing that hadn’t healed properly the first time.
That surgery, coupled with Harley losing major flight feathers on his wing, called molting, delayed the recovery. But the young male eagle is making up for it.
The Raptor Center handles more than 800 birds of prey each year. Of the roughly
100 eagles that come into the center each year, more than one-third perish because of lead poisoning.
“We’ve just come through a really, really tough period after deer season, where we had about a dozen eagles come in with lead poisoning and none of them made it,” Ponder said.
Meanwhile, another rescued Duluth-area eagle is recovering. The eagle was rescued in August along the shore of Whiteface Reservoir north of Duluth after becoming entangled in fishing line and the barbs of a fishing lure. That eagle also is flying well and could be released soon, Ponder said.