- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - When fate led a Division of Natural Resources employee to the site of a fallen bald eaglet, the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia near Morgantown took him under their wing.

Now standing nearly 2 feet tall with curious, onyx eyes, the downy creature was discovered in a rugged embankment near Keyser in Mineral County in early May.

“This bird came to us at 3 to 4 weeks old, and at that point he was a little gray fluff ball,” said Jesse Fallon, director of Veterinary Medicine. “He couldn’t get much in the way of mobility or even maintaining proper body temperature.”

After a relentless and unsuccessful search for the eaglet’s nest, the DNR and Avian Conservation Center took matters into their own hands.

“We don’t know if the nest was destroyed or what caused the bird to fall from the nest but we know that he was underweight and suffered some head trauma and some soft tissue injuries and so he was managed in a critical setting for about three or four days until he began eating on his own,” Fallon said.

According to Fallon, most of the eaglet’s feathers are still in “sheath,” a phase of feather growth in young birds.

“They still have a lot of growing to do. People refer to these as pinfeathers, and they all look really healthy and the sheaths will come off as he matures,” Fallon said. “With wings like that he can’t fly so this bird is completely unable to fly at this age.”

In order to prevent the eaglet from associating food with humans, the Avian Center has only removed him from his habitat to conduct weekly physical exams.

“This bird has a good healthy fear of humans. He’s housed with another eagle and so he’s learned to associate and identify with that bird as the same species and that part’s really important for us,” Fallon said.

During the weekly exam, Fallon lifted his stethoscope to the eaglet’s chest.

“Birds that fly are really exquisitely adapted to flight and maximizing their oxygen intake but that also makes them susceptible to respiratory diseases like bacterial pneumonia, fungal pneumonia,” Fallon said.

Next, the talons and knees were checked for surface damage.

“You see a lot of damage to these guys in captivity if they’re not on proper bedding.”

During the eaglet’s time in the intensive care unit, the staff administered a catheter, IV fluids and appropriate medicine to prevent upper respiratory diseases such as bacterial or fungal pneumonia.

Since his rescue, the eaglet has gained weight and poise.

“When he’s back in his habitat he is vocalizing consistently with that other eagle and asking for food,” Fallon said. “At this age the parent is still supplying food daily or a couple times a day.”

When he’s fully grown, the eaglet will attain a wingspan of approximately seven feet.

“He belongs in the nest until he’s 10 to 12 weeks old when they fledge from the nest,” Fallon said. “We’ll keep him until he’s ready to leave.”

The Avian Conservation Center plans to accommodate the eagle for approximately two to three more weeks until placing him in a surrogate nest in a location appropriate for bald eagles.

“By working with the DNR, we will identify a location, get him in that nest box, feed him for a couple of weeks, open the nest box and continue to feed him there for a couple of weeks and continue to provide support as he learns to care for himself,” Fallon said.

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Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.charlestondailymail.com

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