Volunteers prepare for eagles' return to Kodiak

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2008

KODIAK - After a brief vacation to the mainland where they have been fed, bathed, blow-dried and generally pampered, many of the eagles that made pigs of themselves in the back of a gurry truck filled with two feet of fish guts will spend Valentine's Day back in Kodiak with their eagle mates.

Gary Wheeler, manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, said he expects some of the eagles to return within the next couple of weeks to join the other estimated 500 eagles that reside in the city of Kodiak.

In anticipation of their return and release in Kodiak, volunteers at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage are taking the birds outside and getting them acclimated to the cold.

But one of those is unlikely to return to Kodiak.

"The last one to be fed was an immature male who had gained back his weight and was looking good and strong," BTLC volunteer Dave Dorsey said. "He caught the volunteer off guard and got out of his kennel."

As workers ran outside with blankets to help corral the eagle that perched on the kennel with a piece of salmon in his talons, he flew off and disappeared from sight.

"(The volunteer) said it climbed, dived and climbed beautifully until out of sight," Dorsey said. "I guess it was his time to go."

When the other eagles are released in Kodiak, it will be an educational experience.

"It's our intent to make (the release) a public event," Wheeler said. "We'll probably involve some of the schools as well. There will probably be several releases. We don't expect them all back at the same time."

Wheeler didn't expect when the 50 bald eagles made their ill-fated plunge, it would result in a flurry of questions from people across the nation.

Making the best of a bad situation, Wheeler used the tragic event to help educate the public on eagle habits by hosting an eagle presentation at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center, given by wildlife biologist Brandon Saito.

In the meantime, the eagles are being prepared for their return to Kodiak.

Saito said the truck driver, after pulling out of the plant, went to close the plant door before closing the top of the truck, to stop heat from escaping from the plant.

In that short time, the eagles began diving into the truck.

Ocean Beauty Seafoods officials said they are reviewing and strengthening their policy.

Other causes of eagle deaths in Kodiak include tangles in fishnets and poisoning at the city dump. Although eagles have been known to be shot around the country, Wheeler said that's not a problem in Kodiak.

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