Eagle flies again


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 10:24 p.m.
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Bob Rowley, 59, of Ocala cradles a rehabilitated bald eagle just before releasing it at Paynes Prairie on Wednesday. The eagle was hit by a car on U.S. 441 in April and was nursed back to health by the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland and the University of Florida Veterinary Medical Center.

TOM MCCARTHY/ Special to The Sun
More than a month after being found critically injured, an American bald eagle was released back to the wild Wednesday at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
"Throw her like a softball," said Lynda White, Audubon EagleWatch coordinator, to Bob Rowley, who cradled the wide-eyed eagle with both arms.
Rowley, 59, carefully pitched the bird upward, and she flew straight into the surrounding woods until she disappeared from sight.
"She's off to better places," said Rowley, who had wanted to participate as soon as he learned about the eagle's scheduled release from a friend.
The eagle was near death when she was brought to UF's Veterinary Medical Center April 20, said Elijah Rooney, the zoological medicine veterinary technician who treated her.
After apparently being hit by a car, the eagle suffered from internal bleeding, a crippled left leg, drooping wings and a temporary inability to see or move due to the shock from blunt head trauma, she said.
Fortunately, the bird had no broken bones, she said, and the Veterinary Medical Center was able to nurse her back to health after about two weeks.
The bald eagle is classified as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Florida has the second-largest bald eagle population in the United States, behind Alaska, Rooney said.
The medical center treats about seven eagles a year, she said, but only half of those can be saved, and only one or two can ever be released back to the wild.
Those birds go to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, which has the largest raptor rehabilitation center in the Southeast and treats about 60 eagles a year, White said.
The eagle released Wednesday had a "nice, easy rehab" and was able to rebuild her wing muscles in a 100-foot flight cage in four weeks, she said.
Wednesday was the first time White had released an eagle at Paynes Prairie, she said, but no matter how many times she watches an eagle fly away, "every one is special."
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park was picked to release the eagle because the bird was found injured near the state park, Rooney said, and she may have lived in the area.
She may even be returning to a family, White said.
A nest of baby eagles missing a one of their parent had recently been reported in the area, she said.
Luckily, the young eagles were already fledglings, making it possible for only one parent to finish raising them.
But the thought of possible nests and eggs is one of the reasons White likes to see eagles quickly rehabilitated, she said.
"We do try to get them out as soon as possible," White said.
Rowley had requested the rare chance to release an eagle because he will be undergoing life-threatening surgery next week, he said.
Also on hand to watch the eagle's release was Rowley's wife, Laura, who works as a psychic animal communicator.
Rowley's friend Michael Marksdemartino was on hand as well and performed a Lakota Sioux blessing before the eagle was released.

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