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Bald eagle mending after shotgun blast

An eagle found shot near Port Blakely is picked up by West Sound Wildlife Shelter staff. The eagle is convalescing at the shelter and could be released this spring. - Courtesy of Dean Dierickx
An eagle found shot near Port Blakely is picked up by West Sound Wildlife Shelter staff. The eagle is convalescing at the shelter and could be released this spring.
— image credit: Courtesy of Dean Dierickx

Raptor shot near Port Blakely has a long road to recovery.

It’s not easy to read an eagle’s feelings.

But West Sound Wildlife Shelter staff have decided that the menacing glare emanating from the eagle recently found shot at Port Blakely indicates it is on the mend.

“She gives you that look now, when you walk into the room, a look that says, ‘I want to kill you,’” shelter Executive Director Kol Medina said. “When an eagle gets that look back it’s a good sign.”

The raptor’s spirit may be returning, but shelter staff say it still has a long way to go before it can fly free again.

The eagle is recovering from deep lacerations and a fractured collarbone, the result of a blast of steel shot from a shotgun that grounded the bird March 25. The 11-pound female has shown signs of improvement. It is eating on its own now, and devours a gamy diet of quail and calf liver.

But it’s still having trouble balancing itself, a possible symptom of neurological damage. It also hasn’t vocalized yet, which could mean its throat was injured.

The good news is that eagles heal relatively quickly, said Shelter Wildlife Services Director Mike Pratt. He expects to know in about six weeks whether the eagle has healed well enough to be released at Port Blakely.

“She’s still in what I would call guarded condition,” Pratt said. “I’m still not sure if she’ll be able to be released, but I’m confident now that she’ll at least survive.”

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials are still searching for the shooter who nearly took the eagle’s life. Harming an eagle is a state and federal offense that carries a penalty of up to $10,000 and one year in prison.

Pratt is confident that, given its condition, the eagle couldn’t have flown far from where it was initially injured, meaning the shot was fired from somewhere in the Port Blakely area. Anonymous donors have pooled $1,000 as a reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

The eagle may have a zealously protective Westie Terrier named Tink to thank for its survival.

Shannon Dierickx said it was mid-morning on March 25 when she let Tink out into the yard of her Halls Hill property. She said the little dog tore across the yard, barking at something in the trees.

Tink was distressed by what looked to Shannon to be a piece of black tarp, lying on the ground among the trees. Then a white head emerged from the black mass and Shannon realized it was bald eagle.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh, my God, it’s going to eat my dog,’” she said.

With Tink stowed safely in the house, Shannon and her husband, Dean, took a closer look at the eagle. The bird seemed enormous, Shannon said, about the size of their 7-year-old daughter.

“I’ve never been that close to an eagle before,” Shannon said. “It was beautiful.”

Beautiful, but very obviously injured. As the couple approached, the eagle made no attempt to fly away, but hopped deeper into the woods on their property.

The Dierickxs called West Sound Wildlife Shelter and rescuers were dispatched to recover the eagle.

The bird was tucked deep enough in the brush that it took 10 minutes for the responders to reach it. Pratt used heavy gloves and a blanket to cradle the eagle, as it snapped at his fingers with a thick yellow beak.

The eagle was taken to the shelter’s north island facility and an examination found deep cuts on the eagle’s neck and leg, as well as bruising on its head. As staff stabilized the bird a steel pellet rolled off its body, which State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers later identified as bird shot from a shotgun.

Following the examination the eagle collapsed. Shelter staff gave it fluids, oxygen and heat but decided it needed further stabilization and drove the eagle to All Creatures Animal Hospital in Gorst.

“She was definitely pretty week at that point,” Pratt said.

All Creatures Veterinary Doctor Kathryn Krueger said the eagle had been bleeding from its lungs and X-rays showed the eagle had a fractured clavicle. It was given pain medication and antibiotics to ward off infection.

Working with the eagle was easy, and Krueger said eagles are generally docile patients.

“They are very calm,” she said. “We’re just careful with their talons.”

After two days at All Creatures the eagle was brought back to the West Sound Wildlife shelter.

Since returning to the island it has been confined to a crate, to keep it from spreading its wings and reaggravating its clavicle injury. As the it continues to recover, Pratt said the eagle will be moved into progressively larger outdoor cage here it can test its wings and prepare for release.

Careful examinations and a blood test will determine if the eagle has made a complete recover and “all systems are go” for a reentry into the wild, Pratt said.

“We wouldn’t release a bird that was at all iffy,” he said. “She’ll have to be 100 percent.”

If the eagle does not heal well enough for release, then by law the shelter must find a place for it in an educational program or euthanize it.

The eagle would likely have a mate to return to. Spring is nesting season for eagles and there is a good chance it left a nest with eggs our hatchlings when it was shot.

There is still a long road ahead for the eagle glaring from its crate at the shelter Pratt said. But it has already shown tenacity.

“They’re a tough bird,” Pratt said. “They have a very strong will to live and that helps a lot.”

Box:

If you have information regarding the eagle shooting contact West Sound Wildlife Shelter at 855-9057 or the Department of Fish and Wildlife at (360) 902-2925. Donors have offered a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the case. You can contribute to the award pool by calling the shelter and sponsor the eagle’s recovery by logging onto www.westsoundwildlife.org.

See Dean Dierickx’s video of the eagle rescue online at www.youtube.com/user/ddierickx.

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