Extraordinary Patient: Up in the Air

Bald Eagle rescued in Lake City returns to skies after treatment at UF, Audubon

Up in the Air

By Sarah Carey

A bald eagle rescued in Lake City after a mid-air encounter with another bird left it unable to fly was released back into the wild after successful treatment at the
University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and further treatment and rehabilitation at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland.

Representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and numerous Lake City area residents were on hand to cheer the bird’s Jan. 10 release at Alligator Lake Park. Many from the community were intrigued by the eagle’s story and had followed the bird’s progress since its dramatic rescue on Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — was captured on video and in photos later posted to the FWC’s social media sites.

“It’s wonderful to see it healthy and returning to the wild,” said Amy Alexander, D.V.M., a clinical associate professor and zoological medicine specialist at UF who helped treat the eagle.

The eagle spent two months recovering from a fractured right shoulder, an injury likely sustained during an in-flight altercation — likely a territory fight — as well as lead toxicity, which is common in the species and usually a result of scavenging on carrion, UF veterinarians said. High lead levels can cause weakness, anemia and neurological problems, and can keep a bird grounded.

After treatment for lead toxicity and time spent recovering from a fractured right coracoid, or shoulder bone, patient No. 2022-0667 was moved to the Center for Birds of Prey’s 100-foot “Magic of Flight” barn in mid-December for flight conditioning. Not long after, the eagle was strong enough for release.

Eagle Release

Chris Wynn, Florida Wildlife Commision District II Director, releases an American Bald Eagle back into the wild at Alligator Lake Park in Lake City, Fl., Tuesday, January 10, 2023. For the past two months, the adult eagle had been recovering from a fractured right shoulder, an injury likely sustained during its in-flight altercation, as well as lead toxicity, which is common in the species and usually happens as a result of scavenging on carrion that have not been disposed of, UF veterinarians said. High levels of lead can cause weakness, anemia and neurologic signs, all of which can contribute to a bird’s inability to fly.

The Lake City community’s fascination with the eagle started Nov. 10, when John Wheeler, a resident who lives near the lake, spotted two eagles fighting in mid-air. Wheeler reported the incident to the FWC, which provides guidance in wildlife emergencies.

“I was in my yard washing my camper when I heard a screaming sound descending from the sky,” Wheeler said. “Looking up, I saw two large birds entangled with each other, rapidly spiraling downward over my head.”

The birds hit the asphalt of a law office parking lot across the street, he said, and he rushed over to find two eagles on the ground, engaged in a fierce tussle.

“Yelling at them to ‘break it up,’ like I would for two dogs fighting, one eagle looked up and flew off, while the remaining eagle appeared stunned and was unable to move,” Wheeler said.

During the eagle’s stay at UF, zoo medicine specialists found no wounds, but discovered the lead toxicity during a routine screening. Chelation therapy was used to remove toxins from its bloodstream. Throughout its hospital stay, the bird remained bright and feisty and had a healthy appetite, Alexander said.

The UF zoological medicine team sees hundreds of birds of prey each year, including about a dozen eagles, and provides medical care. Once any health issues are taken care of, the birds are transferred to rehabilitation organizations for further assessment and for flight training to build back strength before being returned to the wild. Eagles are always sent to the Audubon Center.