- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

NEW LONDON, Wis. (AP) - “She feels the wind,” said Patricia Fisher, owner of the Feather Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in New London, carefully watching the large female bald eagle that was released just moments before.

An eagle that, against all odds, is free once again.

The eagle, perched on a log in the Wolf River, faced into the strong October winds, stretched her wings and glanced back at the crowd that had gathered to watch her release back into the wild.

“She’s going to lift up into the wind and then sweep upstream,” Fisher said. “She’s figuring it all out. She knows she is back home.”

The injured eagle was discovered by Julie Foate of Hortonville as she and her husband were fishing along this stretch of the Wolf River just north of Shiocton in August, Post-Crescent Media reports (http://post.cr/1CYN7IZ).

“We were fishing here and just up the river a little ways I saw the eagle way down low to the water on a branch along shore,” Foate said. “I knew that wasn’t right for an eagle to be down so low to the water. As we got closer, I saw that one of its wings was just hanging down and I told my husband we have to help this bird.”

Foate and her husband contacted warden Mike Young with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, who captured the bird and turned it over to Fisher and the Feather to work their magic.

Fisher, who along with her dedicated crew of loyal volunteers and a supply of freshly caught fish from retired New London teacher Randy Williams, carefully tended to the injured bird. A visit to the generous vets at Wolf River Veterinary Clinic, who regularly volunteer their services to the Feather, showed a severe wrist fracture, shattered in five places.

The bird, it seemed, would never fly again.

“We put her in a small 12-by-16 foot cage and kept her as quiet as possible and just fed her up,” Fisher said. “She would eat three white bass a day. Some days it would be three fish and a squirrel. Randy Williams fished for her and at times he would have 50-plus fish waiting for me to pick up.”

At about the same time the injured eagle came in, Fisher also received an osprey and, strangely, another bald eagle with an amazing story all its own. All three birds eat fish, so the donated fish from Williams were a godsend.

“After a couple of weeks, I asked Mike (Young) to come and put her in a flight cage to see what she could or could not do,” Fisher said. “He had a hard time getting her into the flight cage. She fought him tooth and nail and tried to bite him in the process.”

What followed seemed almost miraculous.

Despite a wrist that was broken in five places, the bird flew and flew and kept on flying in the specially designed flight cage.

“In the flight cage, she flew from perch to perch, back and forth, and we were amazed,” Fisher said. “Because we knew the extent of that injury. Perhaps she didn’t know that she could not fly, and we did not tell her what we thought of the X-rays.”

Even the doctors at the veterinary clinic were amazed that she was flying, Fisher said.

Like all of the creatures she returns to the wild, this bird needed to pass Fisher’s final test before she could be released.

“We needed to push her a bit more, so on Sept. 28, the door opened to another part of the flight cage and she got an 80 foot cage to see what she would do,” Fisher said.

The bird responded beautifully.

“No problem, she said, just get out of my way,” Fisher said, “That bird flew back and forth strongly from perch to perch, like she lived there.”

The bird was released back into the wild recently. There was a chill in the air, along with a few clouds, but the timing was just right.

As Young lifted the eagle from a large box to release it along the shoreline, the bird awkwardly hopped and skipped along the banks before lifting into a low, purposeful flight and landing on the far shore.

As she realized her freedom, the eagle lifted off again, perching on a downed tree in the middle of the river where she drank, bathed a little, stared down the small crowd that came to see her fly free, then lifted off into the strong autumn wind, wheeled into flight, and swept into the October sky around the river bend and out of sight.

The small band of observers cheered and applauded and exchanged hugs as the powerful bird disappeared from view, free to soar once more along the Wolf River shores.

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Online: www.thefeather.org.

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Information from: Post-Crescent Media, http://www.postcrescent.com

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