Soaring again, with a little help

Published 10:59 pm Friday, January 2, 2009

Virginia got a belated Christmas gift Dec. 26, with the successful release of a young bald eagle along the banks of the James River. The bird had been found two weeks earlier at the landfill in Suffolk, so sick that it could not fly, stand or even lift its head.

It’s no surprise, of course, that landfills attract birds. Anyone who’s ever been to the dump will remember at least two things about the visit: the overwhelming odor and the preponderance of seagulls looking for an easy meal. They might be a great place for scavenger birds like seagulls, but landfills, apparently, can be deadly to higher-order birds like eagles.

The one found in Suffolk in December had become seriously ill from pesticide poisoning from the food it had chosen, and people who found it took it to an area veterinarian, who then sent the bird to The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro.

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“His choice of lunch would have killed him if it had not been taken to Midway Veterinary Hospital” in Chesapeake, a wildlife rehabilitator told the crowd that gathered for the bird’s release into the sky above Westover Plantation.

With the bald eagle population in Virginia on the rebound from a low of just 50 nests in 1977, Wildlife Center conservationists have taken in 25 eagles for treatment this year. Their work has helped the population rebound to encompass more than 500 active nests.

Through public education and training of veterinary and conservation professionals from all over the world, the Wildlife Center makes a daily impact in the cause of reducing human damage to wildlife. Its work in cases such as the recent Suffolk bald eagle rescue is only the most public of its efforts. Since 1982, the nonprofit group has cared for more than 50,000 wild animals, representing 200 species of native birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Thanks to the intervention of concerned citizens in Suffolk and Chesapeake, this particular sick bird found the help it needed, and just in time. The story couldn’t have a happier ending, and that’s a great Christmas gift.