Eagle flies the coop
When a local Casino farmer spotted a wedge-tailed eagle on the ground that didn’t fly off when he approached, he called WIRES Northern Rivers to the rescue.
WIRES raptor co-ordinator Melanie Barsony drove to the farm and found the eagle had no injuries, but it was underweight and exhausted.
“When we initially got there the eagle couldn’t fly past a metre high,” Melanie said. “It was difficult to catch her and we’d almost given up when she landed in a paddock with long grass and couldn’t take off.”
With the help of the farmer, Melanie caught the eagle and transported it to the Casino Vet Clinic in a large shadecloth-lined cage.
“It’s important to keep the cage dark to keep bird less stressed and quiet,” Melanie said.
The vet prescribed medication and after 12 days in WIRES care on a diet of whole rabbits and rats, with some extra liver and heart, the eagle was well enough to be released.
“She was very underweight,” Melanie said. “At first she was very stressed and it took her 24 hours to feel safe enough to feed but we rehydrated her and once she started to feed, she ate everything I gave to her.”
To rehydrate the eagle, a special tube with a syringe was used to pass fluid down the bird’s throat into its crop.
“There’s is a knack to it,” Melanie said. “I wrap the bird in a blanket and make sure its feet are wrapped up. You need to be careful – the talons are a protective weapon and it will try to get a hold of you.”
Melanie said the eagle let her know when she was ready to go by jumping up against the cage door. The eagle was taken back to the location where she was found and released.
“We don’t know what originally happened to her,” Melanie said. “Maybe she was clipped by a car and couldn’t feed – when they are on the ground and can’t fly, they will only go in a downward spiral. The medication the vet gave to her helped – she might have had a fungal infection or a gut flora imbalance.”
Melanie has been a WIRES wildlife carer for eight years and has learned so much about birds that she has become the bird and raptor co-ordinator.
“I always loved raptors,” she said. “They really impress me and it’s sad when I see them get killed on the road.”
Because eagles are carrion feeders, they are drawn to road-kills and often can be seen feeding on the side of the road, so if you spot one, make sure you slow down.
“Eagles are heavy birds with a wing span of up to 2.5 metres and it is surprising how slow they are to take flight,” Melanie said. “Often they fly across the traffic and into the path of a car.”
She said that another way to help reduce accidents is to remove dead animals from the roadside. While wedge-tailed eagles are now protected, they still have an uphill struggle for survival. During the 1960s, 30,000 eagles were killed each year by farmers who mistakenly believed they were taking their lambs and today they still battle with the problem of habitat destruction.
“Raptors are becoming more rare and are dangerous to handle,” Melanie said.
If you are interested in caring for these animals, you can join WIRES and undertake specialised training.
“It all comes down to hands-on experience and caring,” Melanie said. “You learn the skills by having other people show you and give you advice – especially the vets who give their services for free.”
If you are interested in learning how to help our native wildlife, you can sign up for the WIRES Rescue and Immediate Care course, held in Lismore on June 5 and 6. To book a place, call the WIRES hotline number on 6628 1898.
If you do ever find an injured eagle, do not attempt to catch it, as eagles with their impressive talons can be dangerous. Call WIRES immediately, and if possible stay with the bird until a trained rescuer arrives.