Roo is set loose by Robert Baines (left), longtime volunteer at the Raptor Center, and Erica Pearson. PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBERTA WHITE
By DAN FOX
Close to one year after the bald eagle named Roo was rescued by a host of Skagwegians near West Creek, the bird of prey was released back to the skies by the Alaska Raptor Center.
Before her March 31 release, Roo had been convalescing in Sitka at the Raptor Center since mid-April of 2017. At that time, local residents noticed her out in Dyea, apparently unable to fly. A group of avian enthusiasts from the Skagway Bird Club enacted a rescue operation, safely scooping Roo up, after which she was delivered first to the Juneau Raptor Center where she was stabilized. From there, the bald eagle was sent to Sitka and the Alaska Raptor Center, where it was discovered Roo was suffering from a broken left coracoid – a bone in an eagle’s body that helps support their shoulder. She also had damage to her beak and multiple cuts and wounds on her face and head.
A year of recuperation has seen Roo recover from her various ailments, according to Jennifer Cedarleaf, avian director for the Alaska Raptor Center.
“She’s flying great, and she was very healthy so it was time to let her go,” Cedarleaf said.
Keeping a fully-flighted bird in captivity has its challenges, Cedarleaf said, as there is a risk for the avian to re-injure itself.
“They’re in a structure that has four walls, if something scares them they can just fly to try and get away from it and possibly hit a wall,” Cedarleaf said. Crowded enclosures are also something that can be tricky; when the birds’ temporary homes are being cleaned, employees have to be careful to keep things as calm as possible.
“So we go in and clean once a day and then feed them, and then pretty much leave them alone so they can just sit calmly and not be too upset by people coming in and out,” Cedarleaf said.
Before she was set loose, Roo was fitted with a Fish and Wildlife Service band, which has a unique number identifying her if she’s ever picked up again.
“I have a feeling that – she was an adult when we got her – so I have a feeling that maybe not this year, but possibly next year she’ll end up in Skagway again,” Cedarleaf said.
Bald eagles tend to migrate around Southeast Alaska and go where the food is, but Cedarleaf said they are also very attuned to their nest.
“So she should, probably if she’s still of the age where she’s laying eggs, she will end up back in Skagway most likely,” Cedarleaf said.
Following the proper procedure to rescue a potentially in-trouble avian is paramount to a successful recovery, like Roo was able to achieve.
Jami Belt, a biologist and natural resource program manager with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, said if one finds an inured bird they should contact the Skagway Police Department, as it has a list of the members of Skagway’s Bird Rescue group.
From there the group members, who have been trained in when and how to rescue an injured bird, can take the right steps.
“Capture and handling of a bird, even if it is injured, is very stressful to the bird and can exacerbate an injury,” Belt said in an email. “Often times an injured bird just needs to be left alone for a little while to recover from a minor injury on its own. In those cases the rescue group will monitor the bird in place before deciding whether it needs to be rescued.”
Belt said she thinks everyone is really glad Roo was able to fully recover and be released.
“I visited her at the facility in Sitka while I was passing through there,” Belt said. “She was given tremendous attention at the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka and was in a large training facility with other bald eagles. Such success stories are not always the norm.”