LAKE PARK — The Department of Natural Resources and the Southeastern Raptor Center released a young bald eagle Saturday at Grassy Pond.

The Southeastern Raptor Center is a division of Auburn University and promotes wildlife conservation for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine through educational programs and animal rehabilitation.

An immature eagle was found in April in the Lake Park area by a resident, according to a press release from Auburn University News. Once notified, Department of Natural Resources officials worked to retrieve the injured bird and transport it to the Southeastern Raptor Center.

Wild Life Game Manager Bob Sargent and Dr. Seth Oster, an assistant clinical professor at Auburn University, gave a short presentation to residents who came out to watch the eagle be released.

When the bird was taken to the raptor center, it was emaciated, dehydrated and infested with parasites, Oster said.

After running several tests, Oster determined the bird had suffered from soft tissue damage and related it to a sprain, he said. While a sprained ankle may not seem serious to humans, Oster compared it to a sprinter because the bird has to hunt for its own food to survive.

“… A sprain can put you out of action for weeks, and if you can’t eat for weeks, then, you are not going to do very well,” he said.

The bird was able to fly, Oster said. Once nursed back to a healthier state, the eagle flew in a 100-foot-wide dome that is approximately 45 feet high to regain its muscles before being released.

During the presentation, the eagle was kept in a vehicle and out of sight. Oster said the bird was kept in the car because, while it was rehabilitated and interacted with humans to some degree, it is still a wild animal and does not interact well with people.

Sargent gave some general information about the bald eagle and its success rates in the wild.

The mortality rate of birds of prey is high in the first year, Sargent said. Perhaps, 50 or 60 percent of the birds don’t make it to adulthood. Bald eagles reach sexual maturity at about five years.

The DNR often gets calls about golden eagles or odd-looking vultures but the birds often turn out to be bald eagles that haven’t developed a white cap and tail feathers, he said. The white coloring doesn’t start to develop until about three years after birth.

The bald eagle is the national bird and was placed on the endangered species list in the early 1970s.

“The bald eagle is a success story for the Endangered Species Act. It was listed as an endangered species in 1973,” Sargent said. “During the decade of the 1970s, we didn’t have a single successful eagle nest in the entire state. … During that era, it was estimated that there were fewer than 500 successful eagle nests across the entire lower 48 states."

Since, the bald eagle has rebounded. Sargent attributed the rebound of eagles to the banning of Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane, commonly referred to as DDT, in 1972 in the United States.

In recent history, the DRN has been able to count 218 successful nest sites in the state of Georgia, Sargent said. It is also no longer listed as endangered via the Endangered Species Act, but is a protected bird of prey in Georgia and is listed as threatened under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Rehabilitated birds have a 33 percent success rate, Sargent said. 

The raptor center receives about 15 birds a year, but only releases five or six, Oster said.

Oster, Sargent and Katy Hyland, a volunteer who worked with the bird during its rehabilitation, donned large leather gloves that ran up the full length of the forearm. 

Once protected, Hyland took the eagle from the car, walked it a safe distance away from other people and released it from her arms. 

The bird took flight into the sky. After circling overhead several times, it flew off into the distance. 

Jason Smith is a reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be contacted at 229-244-3400 ext.1257.

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