New Suffolk haven for bald eagles

Published 10:12 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A local bird rehabilitator is now one of the few professionals in Virginia permitted by the state to rehabilitate injured and orphaned bald eagles.

Tommy White, wildlife rehabilitator and co-founder of Altons’ Keep Wildbird Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Suffolk with his wife, Robin Alton-White, received a federal permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, spokeswoman Terri Edwards confirmed in an email. He then received his state permit from Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, according to the VDGIF permits department.

The permits classify White as a Category 3 wildlife rehabilitator, which is generally permitted to professional facilities with on-site veterinary equipment and staff, according to VDGIF wildlife rehabilitation permit conditions. Only Category 3 facilities may provide care for bald and golden eagles.


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“It’s a real big deal,” White said.

White said he’s been working on getting these permits for the past five years. Up to this point, every injured bald eagle he has collected has needed to be sent to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, approximately 180 miles away from Suffolk.

“I’ve had three die on the trip to Waynesboro,” White said. “I actually had a pilot fly one to Waynesboro once. It was the only place you could take these eagles, up until today.”

Federal regulations require permittees to have significant experience with these eagles, along with the medical resources required to treat them. On top of that, Virginia has stringent requirements that include full-time veterinary staff, insurance and business classifications, per White.

“From the time I obtained this property, I’ve been rescuing bald eagles just to get the experience necessary to qualify,” he said.

He and his wife leased four acres at the southeast corner of the 152 acres land in Suffolk owned by George and Joan McClelland for Altons’ Keep Inc. in March 2017. There are 24 planned enclosures for the facility, including a flight enclosure that’s 100 feet long, 20 feet wide and 16 feet high for large-winged birds.

The Wildlife Center of Virginia set a new record with 55 bald eagles admitted in 2017. The population has largely recovered since it nearly went extinct 40 years ago, but eagles still face constant dangers, such as lead poisoning from ingesting ammunition that hunters shoot at deer and other game animals.

White himself has already handled five bald eagle cases as of Monday. He said he’s coordinating with the Wildlife Center of Virginia to assist in a study on lead levels in bald eagles, and with these new permits, he will be able to transfer a non-releasable bald eagle into his facility for education purposes.

That means he’ll be spending quite some time training his new arrival.

“That’s going to be exciting,” White said.