PITTSFIELD, Maine — Twelve days after being struck by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 95, a bald eagle was released back into the wild on Tuesday afternoon.
The 5-year-old female bald eagle was released on a farm in Pittsfield owned by Carolyn and Steve Richens, who helped rescue the bird by taking it to Avian Haven in Freedom.
Carolyn Richens said she first saw the bird hanging by its neck on the side mirror of the truck. It was nursed back to health and finally released less than two weeks later.
“How incredible is that?” Richens asked. “From picking up that eagle with blood all over its face and just dangling there and thinking I’m bringing [Avian Haven] something they can’t save, and then releasing it two weeks later. This is incredible. It’s been a good day.”
She had no problem describing her emotions as the eagle flew out of the crate and out of sight.
“I think my heart literally raced when I saw it take flight,” said Richens. “She’s OK and she’s free and hopefully she stays [that way]. It was the most amazing feeling I think we’ve ever had. This was very rewarding.”
Marc Payne and Terry Heitz of Avian Haven brought the nearly 9½-pound bird to the farm along Route 11 at about noon Tuesday.
The Richenses are volunteer carriers for Avian Haven. They bring injured birds to the rehabilitation center. They received a call on Sept. 22 of a bird that had been hit by a tractor-trailer not far from their home.
“This bird was attached to a tractor-trailer truck mirror, where the arm and mirror [meet],” said Carolyn Richens. “I just saw legs dangling down.”
Richens said she thought it was dead, but the truck driver told them the eyes were blinking.
“At that point, we could not tell [the extent of the injuries],” said Richens. “Our first priority was to get him [off the mirror] … and put him in a box and bring him to Avian Haven.”
X-Rays on the eagle revealed no broken bones, said Payne. There were blood clots around the eyes and it was bruised and sore, however.
“The bird was lucky to be alive, basically,” said Payne.
Brad Allen, a wildlife biologist and bird group leader with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said Avian Haven was the ideal place for the eagle to recuperate.
“Avian Haven is such a facility that they don’t just leave it in a cage and look at it for 12 days,” said Allen. “They have a big flight cage where they can put him in with other eagles. He could recover, gain his strength, fly around in the cage and be in the presence of other eagles without a lot of hands-on conditioning to humans.”
As it turns out, the eagle was well known to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The eagle was banded for identification in Sidney when it was young. It now calls Pittsfield and the surrounding towns home.
“It’s kind of a treat to have a bit of a history on him — to know where he came from and know exactly how old he is,” said Allen, as he held a picture of the bird when it was less than a year old. “A lot of times when you have an eagle, you have no idea if it’s 5 [years old] or 15 of 25.”
Allen said the eagle was lucky not to have any broken bones.
“We usually see life-threatening injuries — broken wings, head trauma — but this bird was hooked up in the mirror in such a fashion that, surprisingly, it was not hurt that badly,” Allen said. The first thing on a bird we look for are broken wings. If they have a broken wing, we can’t do the surgery to turn it loose ever again.”
Payne said he was also excited to see the bird return to nature.
“It makes you feel great,” he said. “It’s also good to get him off the payroll. It takes a lot to feed and care for these birds.”
Avian Haven has helped recuperate and release 1,300 birds so far this year, said Payne.
“Everything from hummingbirds all the way up to eagles,” he said.