LSU vet school releases bald eagle into the wild

The door to the large portable kennel opened Monday morning and the adult bald eagle immediately took flight down the levee toward the Mississippi River.

That’s where she stopped. Sitting at the base of the levee near the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, she paused to look around a bit, seeming to pose for the cameras used to document her release after four months at the school recovering from a broken shoulder.

Just as Javier Nevarez, associate professor of zoological medicine at LSU, decided the bald eagle had been on the ground too long and started down the levee to get her to take flight, the bird of prey decided to do just that and made her way up into a nearby tree to get a better view.

“She’s just hungry,” Nevarez said, noting the eagle was checking out what might be available.

The injured bald eagle was found in the New Orleans area earlier this year and eventually was brought to the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, where the fractured bone in her right shoulder was allowed time to heal. He said the eagle was likely hit by a car.

“Fortunately, the fracture itself was already healing on its own so we didn’t have to do much,” he said. “Her chances are pretty good.”

The bird was kept indoors for three months, then in the flight cage for another month to allow the eagle to regain her flying strength, Nevarez said.

Much like a runner who has an injury, the athlete would need to work up toward the ability to run again and not just go out and run a marathon immediately, he said.

In the same way, the bald eagle needed to build up stamina after not being in the air for weeks. Students would come into the cage and force the bird to fly from one side of the flight area to the other.

At first, the eagle could fly back and forth only a couple times before getting winded, but over time the bird got stronger, Nevarez said.

It’s also important that the birds don’t get comfortable being around people, and sometimes students will even bang pots and pans or make noise so that, despite being fed by people every day, they associate people with unpleasantness.

“Make sure they really realize that we’re not their friends,” Nevarez said.

For the eagle released Monday, she’ll likely leave the area and head north in the next couple weeks, maybe even flying as far as Canada, he said.

About half of the 12 to 15 bald eagles the Vet School treats every year have gunshot wounds, said Nevarez, who urged people to remember that the animal remains protected by federal law.

Populations of the bald eagle have been on the rebound after they went through a large decline nationwide, primarily because of the widespread use of the insecticide DDT.

As the birds ingested fish and other animals exposed to DDT, the insecticide would make egg shells thin and more likely to break while being incubated.

The use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1972 and the bald eagle was taken off the Endangered Species list in 2007. However, the bald eagle continues to have protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, all of which prohibit killing, capturing or harming the bald eagle.