One Eagle’s Journey

By Dr. Scott Ford

The story of pilots and wildlife volunteers coming together to transport an injured bald eagle to where it could get medical attention. This is from my Field Notes archives, originally posted on November 20, 2011.

Work is like a box of chocolates… you never know what your gonna get. That’s my take on Forrest Gump’s commentary on life throwing us curve balls. No sooner did I return from Haines, Alaska and a wonderful 2-week externship with veterinary students at the American Bald Eagle Foundation, than I received a consult request on a bald eagle that turned into a journey with a life of its own.

The adult bald eagle was found in a Mount Vernon, Washington back yard, unable to fly. The bird was recovered and transported by a volunteer to Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (, 360-378-5000) in Friday Harbor, WA. Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator Penny Harner contacted me about the bird and provided photos of radiographs (x-ray films) that indicated a dislocated wingtip. This type of injury may be treatable surgically. It sounded like the wingtip was viable so I offered to perform the surgery. The problem was how to get it to me as Friday Harbor is not a simple place to access.

It just so happens that I am also a member of the Kitsap Aviation Squadron (, a flying club based in Bremerton, WA, though economics have put a bit of a damper on maintaining my own pilots license. Karl Hadley, a local physician and fellow member, helped me reach out to other members in the club. A number of pilots stepped forward immediately to offer funds for gas and volunteer their services to fly up and retrieve the eagle. On Sunday, November 20th, members Jay Villalva and Bob Case generously flew me up in a Cessna 207 (turboprop I might add!) to examine and retrieve the bird.

Unfortunately, the wingtip was already devitalized (e.g., tissue was dead) and beyond anyone’s ability to repair for flight. However, the bird was otherwise in great condition so we transported it back to Bremerton and I checked her into All Creatures Animal Hospital, a veterinary clinic in Bremerton where I see patients (, 360-377-3801). Watch the video of her transport:

On Monday, Novermber 21st, Susan Ford performed anesthesia while I debrided and removed the necrotic wingtip. Pre-vet student Kendrick Oppenheuzen also assisted and documented the surgery on video. You can check out my edit of it below, just beware that YouTube marked it as “age-restricted” as it contains some blood (it is surgery after all), but it’s not too gory for teens and above in my opinion:

The next day I transported her up to West Sound Wildlife Shelter (, 206-855-9057) where she will recuperate. Because I know that she is going to spend the rest of her life in captivity, I will be trying to gain her trust so that she will be more comfortable around people. This will be through positive reinforcement and keeping negative experiences to a minimum (e.g., less hands-on treatment).

By the way, EVERYONE that has helped with this eagle’s journey has volunteered their time and services. This all came together within 24 hours and is a great demonstration of how much people care about wild creatures and how much good can be accomplished when people pitch in together.

Do you want to know more? Do you want to DO more? Check out these organizations or drop me a line:

Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
West Sound Wildlife Shelter
Kitsap Aviation Squadron
All Creatures Animal Hospital

Want to see more photos? Click HERE to visit the YouTube site and leave your own comments on this story.


January 22, 2012: It’s been far too long since an update of this eagle’s progress. The good news is that her treatment was boringly normal after transport and surgery. Within a week she was mostly healed and in the weeks since she has been moved to an outdoor flight enclosure. A couple of weeks ago I performed a routine recheck and was pleasantly surprised to have her fly over my head! See photo at right– a blurry image transferred from a video clip. She cannot fly well enough to survive in the wild but being able to fly partially increases her chances for a comfortable life in captivity. Because her treatment phase was quick and relatively hands-off, she also has demonstrated some tolerance for people, though any sort of a “manned” bird situation would require a lot more training and evaluation.Thanks, again, to all who contributed to Friday’s transport and care!Return to Main News Page for more articles…

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