An injured eagle that was seen moving between backyards along the Rock River in Watertown earlier this month, is reportedly in serious condition at a recovery center in Antigo. Neighbors who had seen the injured eagle, sought assistance to save the raptor.
The bird, a 4-year-old female, is recovering from blindness in both eyes.
After examining the eagle at the Raptor Education Group center, Director Marge Gibson said she is not sure how the bird was injured. “When she came, she was very critical and weak. An eagle has to be pretty sick to allow humans to put a blanket on them,” she added.
“We are not sure how she got injured, but it looks like a puncture wound in the right eye,” Gibson said. It could have been caused by a fishing hook, she added.
The eagle also had a “sympathetic response” to the loss of vision, Gibson said. “Humans can also have that,” she said. “It is a visual barrier in the brain (causing the other eye shut down). There is no damage (to one eye). That eye has retained some vision.
“The eagle is improving, but she is not out of the woods,” Gibson said. “She is still in serious condition and under treatment with antibiotics and soft foods. She is improving and vision is returning.”
If the bird does improve, it would be released in a neutral area to prevent any territorial disputes. “Because the issue occurred when the eagles are still migrating, she may not be a local bird,” Gibson said.
For several days, the bird was seen along the river’s edge by Riverlawn Avenue in Watertown. Many neighbors were concerned about the bird, said Ellen Klaus of Riverlawn Avenue, who sent photos of the rescue to the paper.
The bird was observed acting strangely in the neighborhood the night of Tuesday, May 4, said Naomi Steinruck of Oconomowoc. Her son, Ivon Steinruck, who lives along Riverlawn Avenue, contacted his mother about the bird. Naomi Steinruck is a bird photographer.
Ivon Steinruck took a video of the eagle in the backyard and sent it along to his mother to view. “I agreed and said that is not right” about the raptor, Naomi Steinruck said.
The photographer contacted Marge Gibson, director of the Raptor Education Group Inc. in Antigo. Naomia Steinruck knew of Gibson because she had worked with the director a few years ago on a loon rescue.
Gibson contacted Lynda Hamilton Rafel of Hartland and John Kraak of Madison, animal rescuers.
Hamilton Rafel requested Naomi Steinruck take pictures with a zoom lens of the injured bird of prey.
“I got photos of her eye and nice profile pictures along the water,” Naomi Steinruck said. “It is sad on how I got good pictures under these circumstances,” the photographer said. With the pictures, the rescuers were able to determine on which side to approach the bird for capture.
For Hamilton Rafel, it was her first eagle rescue. “It is a hobby,” Rafel said of her volunteer animal rescues. “Actually, I started volunteering at the Wildlife in Need Center in Oconomowoc.” The center is currently closed, so that is why REGI was contacted, she said.
Hamilton Rafel was informed the bird had been on the ground a few days before she was contacted. Kraak was also contacted to assist with the rescue. They had worked together in the past rescuing birds in the southern part of the state.
When the rescuers arrived on the scene at about 3:30 p.m. May 5, the bird was already captured. Mike Powers used a heavy blanket to round up the bird.
Hamilton Rafel said when she arrived, she was surprised the bird was under a blanket and laying on its back. “When I got there I took the blanket off her head so she could breath. They (the neighbors) did the hard part, getting it contained,” she said.
“I felt so bad because I knew something was wrong with one eye,” Hamilton Rafel said. “But I didn’t know it was both eyes,” she added.
After several neighbors came to the rescue to take photos with the eagle, Kraak took the bird on the 3 1/2 hour road trip to Antigo.
“Everyone in the neighborhood wanted to come and see it,” Hamilton Rafel said. “They named it Rudy. The word got out (of the capture) and a couple of times when John wanted to go someone else came and wanted to see it.”
Hamilton Rafel, who had done other bird rescues, including a great blue heron, pelicans and turkeys, said the eagle was weak upon her arrival. “She was barley able to hold her head up and she was gasping for air. I am just glad she is getting better.”
But the bird may not be released if it does not get its vision back, Hamilton Rafel said. “Our fingers are crossed. Not knowing for sure exactly why she became blind is the hard part.”
Eagles in the wild can live 20 to 30 years.
The REGI director said the eagle is a delightful patient among the 300 animals they currently have at the center.
“The folks in Watertown were really terrific identifying the eagle needed helped and helping to capture her,” Gibson said. “As wildlife agencies have increasingly less involvement with injured wildlife, we do count on the public to help safely capture and transport. Our thanks to everyone that helped this beautiful eagle.”