The Donahue family, visiting their summer home on Clear Lake near Glen, found the two flightless eagles with obvious injuries on June 21. MNR Conservation Officer Lieutenant Robert Gorecki responded to capture the birds and bring them to Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation at Care Garrison.
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Dr Katie Baratto, a veterinarian at Garrison Animal Hospital who volunteers her time to care for wildlife in the rehabilitation center, said they were waiting for eaglets when the call first came in.
“It’s a common time of year for babies to be in low branches and on the ground because they take flight and learn to fly,” said Baratto. “But we see wounds and things like that, so we always check them out, and then try to put them back in the nest.”
Lt. Robert Gorecki, a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, tends to a bald eagle shortly before the family was released back into the wild on Friday, July 2. Submitted Photo / Jim Lease
However, when the adult male and female pair arrived at Garrison, Baratto said there was immediate concern for their probably left behind eaglets, still learning to hunt with mom and dad. Back in Clear Lake, a veterinary technician and the MNR agent went – this time accompanied by employees of Deerwood-based Bollig Tree Service. Sure enough, they located a nest occupied by two young eaglets on top of a 55-foot white pine. A tree service worker climbed up and retrieved one of the two babies, while the other got scared and flew from the nest.
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“We were able to house the baby with both parents in our new flight park which was great as they had plenty of room to move around and heal there. And they were able to take care of their own baby while they were with us, ”said Baratto. “And the other one, we couldn’t do anything about it. So we crossed our fingers and hoped he would be okay until we could get them all back.
The eagle’s parents were given antibiotic treatment for what Baratto described as superficial puncture wounds that would likely have become infected had they remained in the wild. While it’s impossible to know for sure, Baratto said a likely scenario involved adults working as a team to protect one or both eaglets from a raccoon, coyote, or other predator.
“The assumption would be that one of the babies was on the ground at the time and they were trying to protect him,” Baratto said. “… They’re like toddlers, you know. They crash and burn and fall and their parents protect them, just like ours. We just don’t get the opportunity to interact very often with a family group of birds like this. “
Submitted Photo / Jim Lease
Wild and Free’s new flight enclosure, which covers 100 feet in length and can be divided into three “rooms” for birds supported by the organization, allows volunteers to secretly place mice and other food at. through hidden windows for occupants to find.
“We didn’t have to do any of the prep work of… chopping or tearing the food so a baby could feed itself. We just got to throw mice or whatever we gave them and the adults then took care of the baby, ”said Baratto.
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A little over a week later, the protective parents and their offspring were ready to return home. On the shores of Clear Lake, near the eagles’ nest, those who rescued the awesome birds – Gorecki and the Donahues – released them back into the wild. Gorecki said there was a good chance the second eagle would be reunited with his family, noting that lake residents spotted the baby around the lake just before he was released.
An MNR conservation officer for 15 years, Gorecki has extensive experience responding to calls from injured or strangely acting animals, including eagles. But last week’s release marked a first for the lieutenant.
Submitted Photo / Jim Lease
“It has been quite a unique experience, and we are happy to be a part of it,” Gorecki said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “… This is certainly the first time that I have released two adults and a baby, all three at the same time. It is unique.
Gorecki said officers do not receive formal pest handling training, so two young officers accompanied him to the release to gain experience.
“It’s a lot to learn by trial and error, learning from the former officers you work with and in the field. And they will help teach you some tips and ways to not only protect yourself and the animals when you capture them, and of course, navigate when releasing them, ”he said. “… I thought it was appropriate enough for the July 4th vacation, to be able to release our national bird.”
Submitted Photo / Jim Lease
The Family of Eagles released last week is just one of the outings that Wild and Free has carried out in recent days. Foxes, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits and songbirds have also recently returned to their environment. It’s the time of year, Baratto said, when a variety of baby animals who have come for one reason or another are old enough to live on their own – but this is shaping up to be one of the busiest years ever. for the organization of rehabilitation. So far in 2021, Wild and Free has recorded more than 700 catches of injured or abandoned animals.
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“Last year during COVID, we didn’t know how things were going to turn out. But I think there were so many more people out there last year which was amazing. We had record numbers and we are on the verge of breaking them this year, ”said Baratto. ” … It’s awesome. We have interns this year, with whom they have great experiences and they are able to help us take better care of the animals and help the volunteers, which we are so happy to have back this year because we could have very little volunteer support last year. So it’s been a really good year. It has been a very busy year.
In addition to the new flight enclosure, Wild and Free also recently added a new mammal enclosure and is in the process of raising funds for a second bear enclosure. The organization can also always use more volunteers, Baratto said, for those who wish to help Wild and Free. Volunteers must be 18 years of age or older.
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The influx of animals and organizational interest hasn’t necessarily exposed Baratto or the team to rare species or circumstances – they’ve been around for decades, after all – but it has opened doors for more than people to educate and help foster a love for the outdoors and its people.
“What’s been cool is how much people care. Because really, we don’t affect people with what we do. This is only one animal and give them a chance. And educate the public, because people need to know who needs help and who doesn’t, ”she said. “… In a time when everyone is so stressed and cranky, it’s so nice to receive this call, ‘We found a baby bird and we don’t want to do anything wrong, what should we do? You know, people care. And it’s nice to see.