Ailing eagle released after quick recovery
EASTERN CHARLOTTE COUNTY — A couple of snowbirds helped to save a bald eagle.
It could have been good timing, or it may have been fate, but when Jim and Lori Falk happened upon a distressed American bald eagle while taking a motorcycle ride through Babcock Ranch on Saturday, they knew at once they had to help.
The eagle was not moving, they said during an interview on Tuesday, and was panting heavily. And, maybe most importantly, a colony of vultures was circling overhead.
“If we hadn’t shown up, I’m positive those buzzards would have been all over that eagle,” Jim said.
The couple, who spend winters in Fort Myers and summers in upstate New York, were taking wildlife photos and enjoying their ride Saturday when they came across the eagle.
They called 911, and a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer showed up about an hour later. It was a “team effort” taking care of the bird, Jim said, and they finally lifted it off the ground and transported it to the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda.
Robin Jenkins, a veterinarian at the wildlife center, said she was unsure what exactly was wrong with the bird, but speculated that it had suffered some sort of head trauma.
Jenkins said the eagle was overheated and stressed, but responded quickly to fluid and medication. The bird then was released back into the wild Monday after its speedy recovery.
“He looked like he was almost dead,” Jenkins said. “He was really in bad shape.”
Jenkins said people often hit younger eagles on the road because they’re mistaken for vultures, since they haven’t developed their distinctive white head and neck. They also can mistake the eagle for a vulture because it’s dining on roadkill, she said.
However this particular bird became injured, it’s only a misdemeanor to intentionally hurt one in Florida, according to FWC spokesman Gary Morse.
Morse said the FWC does not keep data on the number of eagles injured in this fashion, but when the agency does come across someone who is suspected of intentionally harming an eagle, it pursues criminal charges on a federal level.
Depending on the fine, intentionally harming an American bald eagle can bring up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for the first offense. For the second or subsequent offense, violators can face up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Morse said.
For the Falks, they were there to find the bird, and they were there when it was released on Monday, near the same place where they stumbled upon it while out for an afternoon ride.
“It was so feisty and gorgeous,” Lori said of the release. “Just beautiful.”