An eagle that had nearly succumbed to lead poisoning last winter took to the sky Saturday as a strong and healthy bird of prey.
“What joy to see an eagle that was so near death power into the sky again,” said Bob Anderson, director of the Raptor Resource Project, whose Decorah eagle nest cam has been viewed by millions.
The eagle, presumably no relation to Decorah’s world famous eagle family, was rescued and rehabilitated through the combined efforts of Decorah resident Darwin Melcher, who discovered the ill eagle on the ground near his house in late February; Anderson, who helped Melcher rescue the bird; and Kay Neumann of Dedham, director of SOAR (Saving Our Avian Resources), who nursed the eagle back to health.
Melcher said the sick eagle was nearly blind and did not resist being picked up by his rescuers.
“I’m glad I could be a part of it. That eagle was going to die without help, and it is a pretty nice feeling to see it fully recovered and back on the wing,” he said.
Neumann confirmed that the eagle had high levels of lead in its system, most likely from consuming a speck of lead ammunition. The lead caused the eagle’s brain to swell, resulting in blindness.
During its more than four months’ treatment and convalescence, the eagle recovered its vision as well as its lost weight and strength.
Neumann also is treating one of the 2014 Decorah eagle hatchlings, which was found with a broken wing.
With Neumann and Anderson in attendance, as well as members of his family, Melcher released the eagle back to the wild near the spot where he found it.
“The bird flew directly to a nearby tree before taking flight and soaring,” Anderson said.
Melcher, who said “avid hunter” is an understatement of his enthusiasm for the sport, said the incident has made him rethink his use of lead ammunition.
“It’s one thing to be told about the effects of lead on birds of prey. It’s another thing to witness the suffering of a lead-poisoned eagle,” he said.
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