On August 21st, Maryjane Angelo of Skye’s Spirit Wildlife Rehabilitation in Pennsylvania received a call from a man who said his nephew was standing in the middle of a rural road, guarding a Bald Eagle.

People who say they have found an eagle have rarely found an eagle. The bird usually turns out to be a hawk, vulture, exotic chicken, or sometimes a pigeon. But as Maryjane drove over the crest of a hill, she found five teenage boys waving and flashing their iPhones, all standing in a semicircle around an adult male Bald Eagle.

The eagle was soaking wet from the rain, his feathers in disarray. As Maryjane put on her gloves and headed toward him, he tried to fly away, but couldn’t; instead he bolted off into the dark on foot. It took Maryjane a considerable distance to run him down and grab him, then she had the pleasure of lugging the 12-pound bird back to her car.

Say what you will about today’s teenagers. “Will he be okay?” asked one anxiously. “We weren’t going to leave him,” said the boy whose uncle had called. “We were going to stay here all night if we had to.”

Maryjane brought him back to her rehab center and gave him an exam. His foot and lower mandible were bloody, he had bruising down his neck and a small gash on one thigh, but she couldn’t find anything broken. She gave him pain medication, checked in with her veterinarian, then settled him into a hospital box for the night.

The following morning, the vet’s x-ray showed nothing broken, and there was no sign of head trauma. He put a single suture into the eagle’s thigh, and sent him home. Once again, Maryjane settled him in; then, since he was banded, she went online to look up the band.

It turned out that, believe it or not, the eagle had been banded on August 21, 1987 – 25 years to the day before his rescue. Further investigation revealed that 30 years ago, the Pennsylvania Game Commission had brought breeding eagles down from Canada to start a Bald Eagle re-introduction program, hoping to bolster the population ravaged by DDT. The program was successful, and the number of Pennsylvania eagles climbed. Maryjane’s was the only released fledgling they’d ever recovered.

The eagle spent five days in the hospital, subdued and resting. On the fifth day, he wanted out. Maryjane moved him to an 8’ x10’ enclosure in the barn, where he could perch and move around, but not too much. This was not good enough for the eagle, who Maryjane soon dubbed “His Regal Grumpiness.”

He soon moved into the big flight, and after two weeks, was flying perfectly and ready to go. Maryjane and her husband took him to The Glades, an environmental area near where he was found. A group gathered to send him off, including PA Game Commission’s Tracy Graziano, who took a beautiful video of the event, which I urge you to watch.

In the video, you can see His Regal Grumpiness energetically bashing Maryjane in the head with his wing, while glaring at her as if to prove that he could easily bite her face off, if he so chose.

However, once Maryjane has him in the right position for release, there is a quiet moment where the two of them are motionless, eye to eye. “Creator, take back my brother,” says Maryjane, who is Native American. “Let him fly free for many years.”

She launches the eagle into the air, he spreads his wings, and sails off into the open sky. Ten minutes later he was still circling above them, soaring and swooping, and reveling in his freedom.

Skye’s Spirit Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has just lost their primary source of donated raptor food, and they are scrambling to find the funds to pay for food for their birds. Please help! Donations are tax-deductible. Their work is so important, and money is so hard to come by these days.

889 Farren Surrena Road, Harrisville, PA 16038

And do watch the video!

Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.