Type of bird: Juvenile bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).
When discovered: July 24.
Where discovered: Near Riverbend Elementary.
What happened: While walking a trail this summer, a juvenile eagle was discovered along the fence separating Riverbend Elementary School from the river. When it refused to move when approached, the Juneau Raptor Center was called. The eagle was quickly found, captured and covered with a sheet to minimize stress for the bird. It was then taken to the car for transport to a volunteer's house. The original assumption was this was a bird from last year that was having a little trouble making a living. But as the bird was being put into the kennel, volunteers were surprised to find this eagle still had down on its back instead of feathers. A quick check of the wings revealed they were partially covered with the white sheath known as wick*. The presence of this confirmed the bird was just out of the nest, too early to ensure survival.
Injuries: None. The bird was, however, very young, wet, cold and hungry.
Care: The bird was soon bathing in the warmth of a heat lamp and getting fluids to counter dehydration and to provide some nutrition. Initially the bird slept on the floor of a kennel, like a nestling. After taking fluids well, it was fed chicken livers for several days and then salmon. When it was strong enough, volunteers transferred it to the flight mew. To encourage the juvenile eagle to act like other eagles, volunteers placed one of the "teaching" eagles, Justice, in the flight mew with her. He motivated "Baby" and she has now reached the highest perches, has healthy looking feet, is very fat and her flying muscles are looking strong.
Release: JRC Volunteer Kathy Benner reports that the only chance for release would be at the Bald Eagle Festival in Haines around the end of October. Currently, Baby is not ready. Should the release not happen in Haines, she will be released as the fish return to local rivers in May.
More about the bald eagle, courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game: The bald eagle is so named for its conspicuous white head and tail. The distinctive white adult plumage is not attained until five or more years of age. Immature birds lack this easily identifiable characteristic and can be confused with the golden eagle. The immature bald eagle's unfeathered tarsi (lower legs) and whitish wing linings on the forward part of the wings can be helpful distinctions where the two species coexist. The bald eagle is Alaska's largest resident bird of prey with a wing span up to 7 1/2 feet long and weights of 8 to 14 pounds. Like many raptors, females are larger than males.
* Wick and feather growth: When a bird's feathers begin to grow, they have both a blood supply and a nerve and are often referred to as blood feathers as they will bleed if broken. The growing feather is tightly wrapped in wick which is similar to the material our fingernails are made of. The wick protects the growing feather. As the feather gets to be full size the blood vessel and nerve are absorbed and the wick begins to flake. After the wick is removed the barbs on the feather shaft expand to their full length and the feather is fully formed.
Message phone for the Juneau Raptor Center, 586-8393; emergency pager, 790-5424; or for more information about the JRC, go online to juneauraptorcenter.org.