Icarus flies again

While not the most successful release in the history of wildlife rehabilitation, the bald eagle dubbed Icarus returned to the skies after 10 months in treatment at Peace River Wildlife Center.

The eagle was burned by a power pole discharge last December when he scooped a fish out of a Punta Gorda Isles canal and perched atop a pole to eat it.  A flame shot out, scorching the bird and the ground nearby, and the eagle ended up in the canal.

PRWC called him Icarus after the mythological character that flew too close to the sun and ended up in the ocean.  Unlike his namesake, eagle-Icarus didn’t drown, and may have benefitted from his unwitting swim, which extinguished the flames and kept him from being burnt more severely.

Icarus swam to a dock and dragged himself up.  Neighbors and Punta Gorda Police officers helped the eagle out of the water, and PRWC responders got him into treatment within minutes.  Since most of his feathers and bare skin had been damaged by the heat, he spent the next few days under close observation in the hospital, to ascertain if he had also suffered damage to his delicate lung tissue or had dislocated a wing or leg joint.

After he was out of immediate peril, he was placed in an outdoor habitat to begin the long process of healing.  During the next two months, he became increasingly irascible.  He was then transferred to an off-site flight cage where he would spend the next 8 months until enough feathers molted so he could fly again.

Once he was finally maneuvering around the 100-foot length and 20-foot width of the flight cage, it was just a matter of time until he was ready to go.  Timing is crucial.  Release him too soon, and he doesn’t have enough stamina to find and hunt down food or defend himself against predators.  Wait too long, and he can hurt himself even more in the cage.

On the day of his release, we chased the feisty adult male eagle back and forth in the flight cage numerous times until we were able to capture him and place him into a small kennel for transport back to PGI.  By then he was tired, and his transport crew was exhausted.

After a short rest, the cage door was opened, and the eagle wasted no time in hopping out into the open field which was at the edge of his territory, but far enough from traffic so as to be safe.  He didn’t immediately soar into the air, but flew low about 100 feet.  When pursued, he flew another 100 feet.  It took him a few minutes to get his bearings, but he finally flew off over the mangroves, away from the commotion of his well-wishers. 

He certainly doesn’t have the nicest looking feathers in the avian community and he isn’t the strongest flyer right now.  But he is back out in the wild and ready to get down to the business of being a bald eagle again, just in time for mating season.  Hopefully his mate will remember him and welcome him back despite his bedraggled appearance. 

I know if my mate went missing for a weekend and showed up looking like that, I’d have some serious questions.  But after almost a full year?…  Maybe we should have written him a note in case she is suspicious of his extended absence. 

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Icarus flight training prior to release. Photo by Bill Kimber