He perched on a log Monday afternoon, looking as regal as ever, while staring toward the window of his outdoor, slatted wooden enclosure.
The male American bald eagle – with the trademark white head, yellow beak and feet, and black-brown breast and back – is recuperating at the SPCA Serving Erie County’s Tonawanda shelter after he was found injured in a ditch along Route 394, south of Westfield, a little more than two weeks ago.
Not much is known about how the iconic bird ended up in its sad state, but vets are nearly certain he will likely never return to the wild.
“Unfortunately, whatever injured the eagle happened about two to three weeks before he was found, so his fractured wing was already healed,” said Beverly Jones, assistant director of wildlife services at the SPCA. “The integrity of the wing was completely disrupted, so the bird will not fly again.”
But the so-far nameless eagle may have a different kind of future ahead.
The bird has a calm demeanor and has not exhibited aggressive behavior, which may make him an ideal candidate for public education purposes.
The SPCA has never had a bald eagle as a permanent resident – it’s only seen three at its facilities over the last 15 years or so – but it’s open to keeping the bird at the Tonawanda shelter if the federal U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determines it is a suitable permanent home for him.
“Whenever you choose to keep a bird in captivity, you don’t want them to be stressed,” Jones said. “You’re asking a lot of a wild spirit to be in captivity, to no longer be free.”
The eagle first has a lot of healing to do. The bird, which vets know is six years old because he was banded as a chick in New York State, was badly injured.
No one is certain how, but SPCA workers speculated he may have been hit by a car while swooping down for some carrion on the ground.
The eagle suffered from a fractured left wing at his elbow, as well as an injured second toe on his left foot that has been almost completely amputated.
Blood tests showed a high white blood cell count, indicating he may be fighting an infection.
He tested positive for lead poisoning, though those levels have dropped. He also tested positive for Aspergillosis, a fungal infection that could affect his respiratory tract and cause pneumonia.
SPCA veterinarian Dr. Karen Moran, who specializes in wildlife animals, has been treating the bird and monitoring his progress, along with veterinarian Dr. Laura Wade, who specializes in the care of avian and exotic pets.
“He won’t be able to fly, which is really, really sad,” Moran said Monday after examining the bird while wearing leather gloves and goggles and using a towel to handle him. “He was really, really skinny when he came in, and was really weak.”
But the eagle seems to be turning a corner in his health, perking up and now weighing 8½ pounds, close to the average 9-pound average for a male eagle.
The eagle also has been on medicine to help ward off infection and presently is not showing signs of the fungal infection, Moran said.
He also seems to sense he no longer can fly. “I think he knows it. He doesn’t even try,” Moran said.
Normally, the wing span for the eagle would be about six feet, but his compromised left wing only can open up about two-thirds of what it should.
However, the eagle is getting an A-plus for behavior. Moran described him as very quiet and “exceptionally good,” saying he shows no signs of overtly aggressive behavior so far.
His daily menu typically consists of 300 grams of rat or 400 grams of white fish.
SPCA Executive Director Barbara Carr said, “If we can find the resources, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service would approve his staying within our educational program, we’d certainly consider it and may apply for a formal permit.”
Special handlers would have to train the eagle for on-the-road educational visits and a special outdoor enclosure would have to be built for him.
“It’s a lot of if’s at this point, but what we’re going to do is what’s best for the animal, with the blessing of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He’s a gorgeous bird,” Carr said.