Five weeks after he tumbled out of the air and landed in the middle of a busy Harford County highway, a fully recuperated bald eagle was returned to familiar airspace in the skies above Edgewood.
On February 12, Randy and Michele Fletcher of Aberdeen stood guard over the bloodied and debilitated eagle; directing traffic on Route 40 around the fallen bird and praying it would survive until help could arrive.
On Saturday, the Fletchers once again stood over the eagle; to bear witness as the raptor left the care of its rehabilitators and regained its freedom. This time their prayers were those of thanks for the spiritual and emotional comfort the eagle brought them as it healed.
Randy Fletcher was witness to the mid-air fight between rival, territorial male eagles, which ended when one of the birds plummeted to the ground beside his vehicle.
Not long after its initial rescue, the eagle found its way into the care of Kathy Woods and her Phoenix Wildlife Center. The bird had soft tissue damage to its throat and was bleeding from its mouth. Woods initially feared the eagle had sustained internal damage from its collision with the road, but soon discovered the wounds were superficial and likely inflicted by the other eagle’s talons.
Following a few weeks of antibiotics and care, the eagle was taken to a private Monkton aviary, where it could reacclimatize with the outdoors and had room to stretch and test its wings.
In Monkton on Saturday morning, the eagle had to contend with one final interaction with humans as Woods and wildlife rehabilitation apprentice Melissa Goodman [in the interest of full disclosure, my wife], lowered their voices to a whisper and crept into the cabin-sized flight cage that housed the massive bird.
A few minutes later, the two women emerged from the enclosure with the eagle swaddled tightly in a sheet. After securing the eagle in a large dog crate in the rear of the Jeep, the bird had only to endure the 40-minute ride from Monkton to Abingdon; where a small group was waiting eagerly for its arrival.
Just before noon, Woods and her precious cargo arrived at the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center in Harford County – a site popular with bird-watchers because of the frequent sightings of bald eagles and other raptors over the waters of Otter Point Creek.
Less than two miles from where they protected it as it lay injured in the roadway, the Fletchers once again greeted the eagle that has been in their thoughts and prayers for the last month. Also on hand Saturday was the natural resource officer who responded to the Fletchers’ call for help. He brought along his family to witness the culmination of his rescue.
The group shared hugs and anxious conversation before moving down to the water for the release.
“He’s a survivor for sure,” Michele Fletcher said.
Woods said the eagle was being released midday because “most birds of prey are sedentary at noon,” which reduces the chance of the rehabilitated eagle running into immediate trouble from other territorial raptors.
After describing how the release would proceed and preparing the small group for the possible outcomes, Woods and Michele Fletcher slowly opened the detached roof of the dog crate.
With a couple of awkward hops on the pebbled shoreline, the eagle took off – flying low and then immediately wheeling across the sky as it followed Otter Point Creek out to the Bush River.
“Fly, baby, fly,” Michele Fletcher cheered, as an applause came up from the group.
Within 20 seconds, the eagle faded from view of the teary eyes turned skyward.
The Fletchers, who connected to the eagle spiritually as they simultaneously dealt with its convalescence and the loss of someone close to them in their lives, hugged and thanked everyone involved in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release effort.
“The release was simply breathtaking. Just knowing that a split-second decision and all the efforts put forth proved fruitful. There is no greater gift from this experience Randy and I could ever receive than just seeing him finally released ‘back home.’ Once again, our thanks goes to all involved,” Michele Fletcher said.
“Kathy…Our thanks to you for your caring (not only for the bald eagle but to Randy and I), kind words, and shoulder! Melissa…Our thanks goes out to you for all you’ve done to help make this possible. Volunteer work can be tough at times but you made it look simple.“
“To the majestic eagle: Fly strong…Soar high…Live free…,” she added.
Photos by Hugh Simmons, and Randy and Michele Fletcher.
Kathy Woods and Phoenix Wildlife Center will be in Aberdeen on Saturday, April 16 for Harford County’s Earth Day Celebration.