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Video: After VINS Rehabilitation, Bald Eagle Released Back to the Wild

  • Vermont Institute of Natural Science volunteer Christine Porter, left, watches as a 4-year-old female bald eagle flies away after being released in Windsor, Vt., on Thursday, May 11, 2017. The bird was found injured in Brownsville, Vt., in February 2017 and spent several months in rehabilitation at VINS headquarters in Quechee, Vt. More than 30 people, mostly VINS staff and volunteers, turned out to watch the bird be released back into the wild. (Valley News - Maggie Cassidy)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2017

Windsor — It’s been more than two months since Brownsville resident Richard Vacca rescued a severely ill bald eagle while snowmobiling in the village, staying with the bird — despite the apparent bleakness of her situation — until the game warden could get there.

So as the 4-year-old female took flight into sunny blue skies in Windsor on Thursday, following a brief ceremony with about 35 people to mark her rehabilitation by Vermont Institute of Natural Science specialists, Vacca found himself emotional.

“It’s pretty neat to see it happen,” Vacca said, his voice catching. “To save something like that is a pretty good thing. How often does that happen, you know?”

Vacca, 48, and his friends were on an end-of-the-season snowmobiling run on Feb. 25 when they spotted the bald eagle face down on the ground. Vacca waited with the bird for about 90 minutes until the game warden, Sgt. Keith Gallant, arrived.

“It’s a bald eagle — I didn’t know what to do, but I didn’t want to let it just sit there,” Vacca said, calling the bird an American symbol and crediting VINS with saving her. “Even if it wasn’t going to make it, I didn’t want some other animal to take it. I think it deserved better than that.”

Lauren Adams, lead wildlife keeper at VINS, said the bird was in dire condition, and could neither stand nor hold her head up when first discovered.

“When this eagle arrived, she was barely alive, honestly,” Adams told the Windsor crowd of mostly VINS staff and volunteers. “We were very worried about her.”

The rehabilitation team treated her for toxicity by giving her IV fluids, nutritional support and other care as she slowly grew stronger. They will never be sure what caused the bald eagle’s symptoms, she said, which could have stemmed from natural toxins or other chemicals.

Adams said the bird was banded as an eaglet in Quebec, allowing VINS to identify her and determine her age. She said this is the fourth successful release of a rehabilitated bald eagle by VINS in the past decade, including one that was released in April 2013 in North Thetford.

A 2012 study by New Hampshire Audubon identified 19 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the Connecticut River watershed. The Audubon counted a “record number” of breeding pairs of bald eagles in the Twin States last year, Adams said, with an estimated total of 300 birds, including adults, juveniles and “transient eagles.”

One of them crashed the party on Thursday.

When the 4-year-old female first was released, it flew into the field before landing in the grass, probably to orient itself on its first wild flight in months after a long car ride, birders said at the scene.

As the crowd watched the eagle on the ground in the distance, a sudden shadow appeared from something soaring overhead, causing them to look up at once: It was a male bald eagle, who birders said was probably there to stake his territory.

When the female took off again, rising high in the sky, the two birds swooped close together briefly before increasing the distance between them.

Mary Davidson Graham, assistant executive director at VINS, said the organization’s hotline at 802-359-5000, ext. 510, answers the public’s questions about all wild birds, big and small. Graham encouraged the public to call if they discover fallen baby birds at this time of year, which often can be safely placed back in their nests.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.