CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. - We often hear of wildlife rescuers rehabilitating animals and returning them to the wild, but this release is special.
Our national symbol, a bald eagle, was healthy enough to return to the area where he was found injured a month ago in Charlotte County.
Two volunteers carried a cloth-covered blue cage to the side of a road in Placida, Charlotte County. Inside the cage, America’s majestic bird was ready to fly free again after a month of rehabilitation.
“It was in pretty bad shape, missing flight feathers,” says Bjornes Stornes, the volunteer rescuer who picked up the eagle.
Kevin Barton, founder of The Wildlife Center of Venice, helped release the bird early this morning and described the bird as “emaciated, (suffering) weakness in general.”
Stornes says, “We thought it got into a fight with an osprey.”
He watched as the eagle took flight Wednesday, flying low but strong. It's a “great feeling especially so close to Fourth of July makes me proud,” he said.
Stornes rescued the eagle May 24 after a homeowner spotted the injured bird … just in time. “Honestly it would have starved. If they can’t fly they can’t hunt, so therefore they can’t eat,” explained Bjorn.
Volunteers at The Wildlife Center of Venice nursed the eagle back to health but now it’s the non-profit group that needs help with food and donations to continue taking care of other animals.
“This our busy time of year,” says Barton.
It’s baby season, and the center’s founder says this time of year the workload doubles.
“We go through a lot of dog food, a lot of cat food," Barton says, explaining it’s used as a food supplement for raccoons and possums, but some items need to be ordered.
“We order mealworms, crickets ... specialty things ... for shorebirds, blood worms, things most people do not keep in their freezer,” explains Kevin.
Barton says The Wildlife Center of Venice deals with 300 species of animals every year.
The wildlife center estimates it rescued more than 4,400 animals last year.
“We love them all," Barton says. "Our goal is to take anything from duck to eagle or squirrel to bobcats back to the wild healthy, doing their function where they belong in their own habitat and territory.”
Rescuers say they returned the eagle in the same area he was found in case he has a mate. If so, he may have a young eagle still in a nest to help care for.
Eagles mate for life and share parenting duties.