- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

EFFINGHAM, Ill. (AP) - The cardboard box began rattling as it sat near Lake Sara on Monday afternoon.

Inside was a restless bald eagle that stood about two feet tall and had an even bigger wingspan. Its talons had just been sharpened.

Malky Spektor, Gabriela Escalante, and Rebecca Leonard carefully shimmied the eagle out of the box and onto the wet ground. The once sickly eagle was ready to be released into the Effingham sky.

A crouched Spektor and Escalante sprang upright and pulled away a towel that was draped over the eagle. The great bird immediately propelled itself through the bare trees and soared over Lake Sara.

For Spektor and the rest of her team from the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois, it was the first time they had ever released an eagle.

“It was anticlimactic,” said team member Lauren Novak.

“But that’s what we wanted,” replied Escalante. “That was a great flight. We wanted to see him hurry to get away.”

In October, the eagle was found in a ditch just southeast of Newton along a country road and brought to the conservation police at the Prairie Ridge State Natural Area in Newton.

Mary Emanuel, who works with wildlife at the natural area, transported the eagle to the Wildlife Medical Clinic in Champaign-Urbana.

“I really like birds. And they know I really like birds, so they let me take care of the birds,” Emanuel said, referring to the conservation police.

At that time, the eagle was in bad health.

“When it came to us, it could barely hold itself up,” Spektor said. “Its head was drooping. It couldn’t even stand on its feet.”

The clinic treats wild animals that are ill, injured, or orphaned until they are prepared to survive in the wild.

After the eagle arrived, it tested positive for West Nile Virus. Spektor’s team gave it anti-inflammatory medicine and therapy. Survival, however, was uncertain.

“Some of them are able to bounce back and some of them are not,” Spektor said.

This one did. Eventually, the eagle was eating and standing on its own. Spektor said there was nothing else her team could do. Except let it go.

On Monday, the team loaded a car with the box containing the eagle. It was a tight squeeze in the vehicle. They took the bird to the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, where its talons were sharpened.

Their next stop was a home huddled along Lake Sara, within an hour’s drive from where the bird was originally found.

“Some animals are very territorial and they want to go back to the area that they came from,” Spektor said.

Spektor, a third year veterinarian student at U of I, plans to do this kind of work when she graduates. She called it rewarding.

“Honestly, my favorite part is the ability to give an animal a second chance at life,” Spektor said. “It’s great to be able to see a broken and injured animal get fixed and sent back into the wild.”

The moment on Monday was still as Spektor watched the eagle take flight and soon disappear into the mists of distance.

“And there he goes,” she whispered.

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SOURCE: Effingham Daily News, https://bit.ly/15stf5n

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Information from: Effingham Daily News, https://www.effinghamdailynews.com

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