WAYNE, Ill. (CBS) — After two months of treatment and recovery for a broken wing from an apparent gunshot wound, it took a bit of coaxing, but a 5-year-old bald eagle was able to return to the wild Friday morning.
“It’s always rewarding to see our animals released, and get back out to the wild, because that’s where they belong,” said Rose Augustine, a wildlife specialist at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, where the eagle spent the past two months.
An Oak Lawn resident found the injured bird in his back yard on Feb. 20. When animal control workers arrived, they noticed the eagle was severely malnourished, and unable to fly. Once workers got the eagle to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, they discovered his wing was broken, and X-rays found a piece of metal that appeared to be a bullet fragment or shotgun pellet. It’s unclear if someone shot the eagle on purpose, or on accident. Though no longer on the endangered species list, bald eagles are still protected by a number of federal laws.
Due to his severe malnourishment, veterinarians were concerned the eagle might not be able to handle anesthesia needed for surgery to repair his wing, but he needed the surgery to survive.
As luck would have it, the surgery was a success, and the eagle was nursed back to health and eventually moved to the center’s large outdoor structure, where he was able to fly.
After veterinarians determined he was able to make turns in flight with his repaired wing, they decided to release the bird back into the wild on Friday.
It took a bit of waiting and some mild coaxing before the eagle felt comfortable enough to exit his cage and fly off into the clear blue sky over Pratt’s Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in DuPage County.
“It’s a new setting for him. It’s a new place,” Augustine said. When wild animals are introduced to new homes, they tend to take some time to look at their surroundings first.
Sandy Fejt, an education site manager for the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, said the Pratt’s Wayne Woods are ideal for a bald eagle.
“This forest preserve site is perfect for him, because it has a lot of waterways for him to pick the direction that he wants to go,” she said. “We’re hoping he’s going to work his way north, and get up into that area near the Quad Cities, where he’ll find others for nesting season.”
Wildlife experts said other bald eagles are migrating through the area this time of year, so they’re hopeful he’ll be able to find a mate.