The bald eagle was released on Saturday March 7th at an overlook near Brian Head, Utah, after Southwest Wildlife Foundation’s licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Martin Tyner spent two months and a great deal of effort dedicated to saving his live after he was found nearly dead from suspected lead poisoning.
A free drawing was held to select someone to release the eagle. The lucky winner was Geri Petkowski of Cedar City who is pictured releasing the eagle at 3:00 pm mountain time as he symbolically carried prayers from those gathered to witness the release as well as followers from around the world; sending prayers on the wings of an eagle as he soars to the heavens.
Someone in the group asked if the eagle would find his way back to Cedar City where he was found in January from his release point in the Brian Head area. Bald Eagles are migratory and we have a wintering population of approximately 50 bald eagles in the valleys surrounding Cedar City. We only have one pair of nesting bald eagles in the area and approximately 17 nesting pairs state wide. Our winter visitors are currently migrating to Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Canada so that is why it was so important to get this guy released as soon as he was healthy.
As I sit here writing this update Martin just received a phone call from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. They just picked up a golden eagle with a badly damaged wing. The eagle will be dropped off within the hour. The joy of releasing the bald eagle back to the wild may be short lived. If the injuries to the arriving golden eagle are too severe it may have to be euthanized. Sometimes I wonder how Martin has the strength to continue to do this.
The year of 2015 came in on the wings of eagles.
Within the month of January the Southwest Wildlife Foundation received two injured eagles. Sadly the first bald eagle had been hit by a car and had devastating injuries – crushed pelvis and broken back. The kindest thing we could do was to end its suffering. That is one of the saddest tasks in wildlife rehabilitation.
Our second bald eagle arrived on January 7, emaciated, weak, lethargic, and looking like another sad ending. Cedar City resident, Don Alger, had reported seeing the eagle sitting in the same place just west of the college farm for two days in a row. Our wildlife rehabilitator and master falconer, Martin Tyner, evaluated him, and the eagle showed all the classic signs of lead poisoning, the most common heavy metal poisoning in raptors. (When people shoot jack rabbits with shotguns, the lead pellets can be eaten along with the carcass by raptors that feed on carrion to survive the winter.)
At the SWF rehabilitation site, Martin immediately started feeding the eagle a special liquid formula by tube several times a day. The eagle was in critical condition for two weeks, and Martin expected to find him dead each time he went out to care for him. This was a very difficult time for both the eagle and Martin. Finally the eagle was able to eat solid food (mice), and a few days later, he was able to turn around on a low perch. By three weeks he began jumping to higher perches, and after a month he made his first 20 foot flight across his chamber landing on the highest perch. At this point Martin was cautiously optimistic that we might have a happy ending to this story. In the next few weeks, it became obvious that he had saved his life, and the eagle is ready to release back to the wild!
Everyone is invited to watch him fly free this Saturday March 7th at 3:00 PM, at an overlook between Brian Head Town and Cedar Breaks. One lucky adult in attendance will be selected in a free drawing for the privilege of being the last human to hold the eagle as he is released back to the wild; a truly once- in-a-lifetime experience. Plan on arriving early, so you don’t miss seeing this magnificent bald eagle return to the sky. There is very little parking where the release will take place, so George’s Ski Shop and Brian Head Town are arranging for shuttles pick up those who want to attend. Park your cars near the Brian Head Town Hall to catch a shuttle to the release point.
An eagle release is truly a gift to the world. The eagle does not care what your race, religion, or orientation is. It is a common belief among many native people from around the world that if you say your prayers with an eagle feather, the eagle feather will carry your prayers to God. An eagle has more than 7000 feathers.
Martin likes to share the following personal story:
“I had the opportunity one afternoon to sit down with a Paiute elder (the Paiute’s are the native people that live here in Southern Utah), and he told me the story of the eagle. He said that the eagle was once human; that the most noble and courageous of the native people were sometimes called by the Great Spirit to come and sit in council in heaven. One noble individual said to the Great Spirit, I cannot sit in council in heaven because I cannot fly, so the Great Spirit turned him into an eagle. The eagle received a calling, (a responsibility) to remain on earth by night collecting all of the prayers from the people of the nation and then by day to ride the currents of warm rising air up to heaven and deliver all of the prayers to the Great Spirit. Once the prayers have been delivered, the eagle then receives blessings from the Great Spirit and carries all of the blessings back down to earth and delivers them to the people of the nation.
The elder then said it is a common belief among the native people that when they see an eagle soaring overhead, they believe that the eagle is one of the great eagles, and the eagle is watching over them and their family personally; kind of like a guardian angel. I thought what a beautiful explanation as to why eagles are sacred. So when I have an eagle that is ready to be returned to the wild, I will frequently seek out individuals or organizations that can use some extra prayers and give them the opportunity to release the eagle.”
7,000 feathers for 7,000 prayers. If you are unable to attend, we encourage everyone who has a prayer; whether for yourself, a loved one, a group or a cause, to please join us in a moment of reflection and prayer at 3 PM mountain time so that our prayers may be symbolically carried on the wings of this eagle as he soars to the heavens.