After Months of Rehab, Golden Eagle Soars Free

The recovered raptor was released back into his home turf in Arizona.

golden eagle released in Arizona
The golden eagle steps out of his crate.

Best Friends Animal Society

Rehabbers unzipped the mesh door to the carrier and the golden eagle didn’t hesitate. He stepped out, pushed off powerfully on the grand, and began flapping his massive wings. Within seconds, he had soared off above the cliff and was out of sight.

The raptor was released at Gunsight Point in Arizona, not far from where he was found almost nine months earlier. The eagle was found on the side of the road and brought to Wild Friends, a wildlife refuge and rehab center that is part of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah.

The eagle was in critical condition but staff members worked to stabilize him. They did X-rays and found that his crop, a pouch connected to the esophagus, was filled with some unidentifiable material. 

“This eagle came from right off the highway. Originally they thought he had been hit by a car, but now we are thinking he had lead poisoning. Either way, he was not able to fly,” says Lauren Ross, lifesaving and care specialist for Best Friends. “His crop was really inflated with food so we had to rush him into our vet [who] saved his life and did emergency surgery on him.”

Veterinarians had to perform a second surgery when the crop came through his stitches. That required him to stay in intensive care for more than a month.

“Being in intensive care for so long meant that he lost a lot of his flight muscles so he lived with us for eight months, getting those muscles back,” Ross says.

Rehabbers spent months working with him in the dedicated bird flight facility at Best Friends. In the beginning, the eagle was only able to fly a lap or two. Right before his release, he was able to fly eight laps without taking a break.

When the eagle was ready to be released back into the wild, Best Friends contacted the Arizona Game and Fish Department for a suggested release site. They chose Gunsight Point, which was just about 30 miles outside of Fredonia, where the eagle had been found.

Soaring Flight

Rehabbers watched as he soared over the canyon and disappeared.

“Up here, most of the injuries we deal with as far as wildlife goes are birds. We are in a prime area for any type of raptor and migrating bird,” says Abby Feddern, wildlife manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “This is a good success story for us.”

The release area is in the northern part of Arizona, north of the Grand Canyon, and is a very remote area. Feddern says they don’t have a lot of help with rescuers, rehabbers, or facilities that can take and treat raptors that size, so it was great to have Best Friends’ help.

“We’re out here all the time, he’s going to be on my ‘to keep an eye on’ list for sure,” Feddern says.

Golden eagles are listed as a species of “least concern” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. But they still face a range of threats from habitat loss and lead poisoning to vehicle collisions. They sometimes are deliberately shot, trapped, and poisoned.

Ross was there as the eagle soared away and described the event as amazing.

“This is one of the coolest releases I’ve seen, mostly because the golden eagles that we get in care come from near Best Friends so we just release them right on site,” she says.

“So to drive him out and actually get to release him back in his home turf was amazing. With us having to work with him so much for the last eight months, to get him to this point it was really rewarding.”

View Article Sources
  1. Best Friends Animal Society media release

  2. "Golden Eagle." IUCN Red List.