And she’s gonna soar again.”
—“Eagle” by Carole King
The sun was setting after a long but successful Sunday at the Taste of Morgan Hill and the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center’s educational animals had just been returned to their enclosures, when WERC staff got an urgent call from California Department of Fish & Wildlife and Santa Clara County Animal Care & Control. Concerned residents near Foothill Road in Morgan Hill had reported seeing an injured golden eagle in the large field behind their homes. The authorities responded and were able to safely capture the dauntingly large, 9-pound raptor in the dark but requested assistance in transporting it back to WERC.
The next day, Dr. Suzanne Colbert of Princevalle Pet Hospital in Gilroy examined the eagle. There was a circular, bloody wound at the lower neck and what appeared to be massive swelling of the chest (which fortunately turned out to be a just a very full crop and not an infection). In addition, the eagle was heavily infested with feather lice, which if left untreated would have damaged the eagle’s feathers.
On Wednesday, the eagle was taken to the veterinary hospital for x-rays and surgery to close the wound. It was initially suspected the laceration had been caused by a gunshot, but because there was no exit wound and the x-ray showed no bullet, it is now assumed the eagle had accidentally impaled itself on a metal fence post or pole. The injury caused a rupture to an air sac, which is crucial for flight, especially at high altitudes.
The female eagle has been named Morgan, and was in intensive care at WERC for the first two weeks. While treating the eagle and administering antibiotics, specially trained volunteers wore Kevlar lined gloves and vests, as well as face shields, to protect themselves from the powerful beak and talons that can easily kill an adult deer (though they prey mainly on small to medium-sized mammals, such as rabbits and ground squirrels).
WERC is certainly up to the challenge of caring for this eagle. WERC volunteers were specially trained in eagle rehabilitation in a weeklong session in Alaska some years ago, receiving rigorous training in handling, medication, behavior and more. Back at WERC, this knowledge has been passed on to other volunteers, continuing to this day. WERC has rehabilitated many eagles over the past 20 years, including a bald eagle that broke its wing when it collided with a truck on Pacheco Pass and Orion, the golden eagle that had a plate surgically inserted in his broken leg and who later became an educational raptor at the Center for Birds of Prey in South Carolina.
It is somewhat difficult to determine the exact age of an eagle. Because Morgan has the large white band at the base of her tail and white patches on the underside of her wings juvenile golden eagles display for the first several years of their lives, it’s assumed she is approximately 2 to 3 years old. She already sports the lustrous “golden” plumage on the back of her head and neck, for which the species gets its name.
This week, after a final checkup by Dr. Colbert, Morgan was transferred to the center’s 100-foot long flight aviary (the only one in Santa Clara County) for conditioning to build up her stamina and to confirm she is capable of perfect flight again. If all goes well, the magnificent golden eagle will soon spread her wings-she has a 6-foot wingspan-and soar over the open country and hills of Morgan Hill and beyond. Visit werc-ca.org for updates.