Two bald eagles return to skies over Craig after 6-month rehabilitation
August 2, 2018
CRAIG — A series of unfortunate events — crash landings, injuries, and lead poisoning — were unable to crush the spirits of two bald eagles, which were freed Tuesday from the top of the bluff overlooking the Yampa River and Loudy-Simpson Park.
"It's always a better day after seeing a bald eagle," said Tracy Bye, of Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation, located in Steamboat Springs, but for a small group of people who witnessed the release of the eagles — and for the eagles, themselves — it was a great day.
"It was awesome. It doesn't happen very often, at least for me. It's really neat to see it come full circle when you take the time and effort to help a critter out and take it through the entire rehabilitation process and get to see it fly off while standing relatively close," said Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Jonathan Lambert, who was one of many who had a hand in the rescue.
Both birds are mature female bald eagles, and both were rescued about six months ago.
The larger of the two birds was found and rescued at the Craig wastewater treatment plant’s oxidation ditch in January, as reported in the Craig Press.
In February, city employees James St. Louis, Dustin Willey, Tyler Slaight, Tim Kulp, Todd Smilanich, and former Craig firefighter Doug Slaight were recognized with certificates presented by the Craig City Council for their roles in rescuing the eagle.
The second bird was found on the ground near Maybell, suffering from a broken toe and a head injury.
Both birds were diagnosed with lead poisoning, a fatal condition if left untreated.
"Lead affects them neurologically and their eyesight," Bye said, adding her suspicion that lead poisoning is why both birds crash-landed in the first place.
Bye has been rehabilitating wild animals for more than 20 years, often with the help of veterinarian Lee Meyring and the staff at Steamboat Veterinary Clinic, who helped Bye wash the waste and sludge from the Craig eagle.
"We wore plastic suits and washed her with Dawn, like they do with animals that get into oil spills," Bye said.
She believes every animal she cares for has a lesson to teach, and caring for the spirited bird reminded her that, "even though life can be crappy — she went in our human waste pond — she didn't let it disgrace her. She fought through it and lead poisoning. She still had that fight in her. Even though life can be crappy, you have to help others and not hold grudges."
The smaller bird remained calm and easy to handle throughout her ordeal, leading Bye to think the lesson the raptor was teaching is to "be kind. Even when hurt, she didn't have a nasty attitude. Let other's help you, and be kind to everyone."
Both eagles — and all of those Bye has rehabilitated during the past four years — have tested positive for high lead poisoning caused by ingestion of lead shot.
"It only takes one pellet to kill an eagle," Bye said.
A special anti-toxin is given to the birds to help them recover, and Bye takes the birds to the Birds of Prey Foundation — "the Mayo Clinic for birds of prey" — in Broomfield.
There, Director Heidi Bucknam is researching the increased incidence of lead poisoning, which is impacting eagles living on the Western Slope in far greater numbers than other areas of the state, as reported recently in a Steamboat Pilot & Today article.
It's a problem Bye thinks the nation needs to figure out for the betterment of the bird that is America's national symbol.
"These eagles are becoming part of your story. … So today, when these eagles are released, you guys need to send your messages with them in the heavens … and hopefully, we can figure out this lead thing," Bye told witnesses gathered for the release.
After more than four hours of travel to the release site, both birds were eager to fly. Craig resident Doug Slaight — who participated in the rescue of both birds —was asked to help Bye open the doors on the travel crates allowing both eagles to soar into the sunset … and freedom.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.