- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

A bald eagle nicknamed "Spirit" took to the blue skies over Virginia yesterday on a wing once thought to be broken beyond repair.

In the presence of wildlife directors and a U.S. senator, the eagle found in April close to death was returned to the wild at Mason Neck State Park, carrying a promise, according to the conservationists who helped save the bird, of recovery for all Americans.

"We know that symbols are important to all of us, and we have lost a few symbols recently," said Ed Clark, president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. "Sometimes we forget to focus on the ones we still have."

There was an audible gasp when the bird was released. Seven feet from wing to wing, it sprang from its handler's arms but dropped so quickly it brushed the ground. For several moments it looked as if the bird might not take wing.

But slowly, within 100 feet, it began to ascend.

When it cleared the trees and flew out of sight a quarter-mile away, the crowd spontaneously applauded.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, watched the release and said he was moved by the moment.

"I think it rejuvenates the American spirit in every heart and soul, whether they're 7 or 75 years old," he said. Mr. Warner, among a crowd of several dozen, was not the only one to take note.

"We've been wounded and we know it," National Wildlife Federation President Mark Van Putten said, "but our spirit is indomitable and we will fly again."

Mr. Clark said it couldn't be determined how old the bird is. It was known to be an adult male because of the color of its head and tail, which start out brown but turn white as the birds reach maturity at 4 or 5 years of age. They can live as long as 35 years.

Mr. Clark called the bird's recovery "miraculous." He said the bird's left wing was crushed, likely in a collision with a car, and it was being attacked by hawks when two men discovered it on April 27 in Suffolk, Va.

"It was awful," he said. "This bird shouldn't be alive."

The bird was flown by helicopter to the wildlife center in Waynesboro, Va., where a veterinary team repaired its wing with steel pins and surgical wire. The bird spent six months undergoing physical therapy and rehabilitation in the center's 200-foot-long flight cage.

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