Eagle released into wild

Apr. 25, 2014 @ 11:01 PM

A bald eagle that fell to the ground during a storm last year was released into the wild Thursday by the American Eagle Foundation. The eagle was released along the shore of Douglas Lake.

Al Louis Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation, said he was on his way to a movie theater the night a nest, in a tree near Kroger on Winfield Dunn Parkway, was blown to the ground with two young eagles. A volunteer called and told him what happened.

"We rushed over there, we went through all the brush and we found both eaglets," Cecere said.

The eagle, named Winfield after the road where the nest was located, is a 1-year-old male. His sibling, who also fell from the nest, is permanently disabled and will be used for educational purposes under the care of the American Eagle Foundation.

Normally, bald eagles are full-sized at about 12 weeks of age, when they leave the nest. When Winfield was that age, he still had not fully grown his tail feathers because of injuries sustained in the fall.

"It wouldn't have been able to fly properly," Cecere said. The tail acts as a means of steering and stopping while the eagle is flying.

Winfield has been raised in the Pigeon Forge-based foundation's 150-foot-long flight cage with minimal human contact. That will  make for a seamless transition into the wild, Cecere said.

"Most of the time they fly back and forth with other wild eagles," Cecere said. "This bird has had some experience with wild birds in its flight cage; it's been observing wild birds catch food."

One of Winfield's parents was also cared for by the foundation, and was released into the wild in April 2007. Through the foundation's hacking program, in which eagles released into the wild find a mate and return to the general area in which they learned to fly, Winfield's parents came to East Tennessee.

Another eagle was released last week on Tellico Lake. Julia Cecere, wildlife program coordinator and marketing assistant at the American Eagle Foundation (and Al Louis Cecere's daughter), said this eagle suffered a gunshot wound.

"Someone was ignorant," she said. "Luckily, it was found. A wildlife officer picked it up and called us."

Depending on what the injury is, Julia Cecere said that an eagle could take a few months to a few years to heal fully.

"There's no typical time, it's just when they're healthy and when it's convenient to release them," she said. "The weather is nice, and we think we're setting this eagle up for success."

Al Louis Cecere is not concerned about the ability of this or any eagle released by the foundation to survive in the wild.

"Even a 12-week-old eaglet has no skills at all," he said. "It just flies off, takes a leap of faith and it's on its way. Whatever's programmed into its genetics to tell it what to do, catch fish or whatever, it just has to happen."

jold@themountainpress.com