Conservation

Free Bird No. 500

Learn more about Charlie, the latest Bald Eagle to be returned to the wild by Audubon’s raptor rehabilitation center in Florida.

This Thursday, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in central Florida will release its 500th successfully rehabilitated raptor: Charlie, an adult male Bald Eagle. Dianna Flynt, the center’s lead rehabilitator, gives Audubon the scoop on Charlie’s story, the difficulties of raptor recovery, and what a major milestone like this means for species that are staging comebacks.

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How did Charlie end up at your center?

Three months ago Florida Fish and Wildlife officer Josh Horst brought Charlie to a good friend of ours: the Florida Wildlife Hospital, which is close to the Viera Wetlands, where he found the bird. They felt we were better equipped to take care of him, and sent him to us about a week later.

What kind of injuries and treatment did Charlie have?

At the wildlife hospital they thought he just had a strained muscle, but when we acquired him we found it was a luxation, or dislocation, in his right shoulder joint. We restricted Charlie from using his right wing, so the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that were put out of place, or stretched out, during his injury could heal. Charlie spent three weeks in a full wing wrap; he also got anti-inflammatory medications and was treated for a broken right talon. Luxations are common, and we find that birds usually recover with intense rest. Still, Charlie was lucky—in the wild he wouldn’t have had the conditions to rest and fully recover for four months the way he did with us.

How did he do with recovery? Is four months the average, or is Charlie a particularly tough bird?

It’s a process, and it takes a lot of time for birds to recover. Charlie stayed with us in the clinic in a small cage for roughly a month before being moved to a slightly larger enclosure without the bandages for a week, and finally spending another almost month outside. At the beginning of April, Charlie was moved to what we call our “100 Barn”—a 100-foot flight cage—and on April 9 he made his first successful flight to the barn’s highest point.  What I see in Charlie’s case is recovery from a severe injury, to the point where he has built up enough stamina and strength to go back to the wild.

Why is his name Charlie?

Eric Draper, the executive director of Audubon Florida, named him Charlie after an Audubon supporter. While we don’t particularly look to name birds that come to us—because they are and remain wild animals—Charlie is kind of an exception, being our 500th successful eagle-release case. He still has a tag number like the rest of our birds—80-15, meaning he’s the 80th raptor to come to us in 2015. We average about 700 or more patients a year, so this isn’t an unusual amount of patients. We’re up to about 350 birds so far this year.

Does Charlie have any identifying features?

Most eagles’ primary feathers—the ones that sit atop the beautiful white tail feathers—should crisscross and form a perfect X, but Charlie’s don’t. This trait will probably always be with him.

What does the future look like for Charlie? Is there still hope for him to find a mate and nest this year?

As far as we know, he was not an active breeding bird when he came to us. In February he should have already been pretty active, so now there’s a lot of single birds out there! There’s absolutely still hope for him to turn things around this year, but based on my experience, he’ll likely build up more strength and, as the summer progresses, choose between staying in Viera or wandering northward, as many of his kind do. We band our birds, so if he does move north, we can still follow his journey—some eagles are tracked for decades.

Why is the 500th eagle release so significant?

Saving one Bald Eagle may, in turn, save many, many more. As a wildlife rehabilitator over the last 40 years, it’s so amazing to me how many of my patients are suffering from human-related activities. These birds have been hit by cars, emaciated from habitat loss, electrocuted by power lines, and poisoned with toxins. We even see gunshot wounds. It isn’t easy work to rehabilitate these birds, but it’s worth it every time one flies back into our Florida skies. Plus, each person touched by these birds becomes educated in their plight and can become connected to their future. All of this isn’t just for the birds; it’s also for us. We need a healthy environment and, in turn, we need birds like Charlie to be out there, contributing to his species’ longevity.

 

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