'Good guys' work to save bald eagle

UPDATE: The bald eagle was euthanized at the Cape Fear Raptor Center due to one leg being shorter.

While picnics and fun times were the state of most Americans’ Memorial Day weekend, a group of “good guys” worked to save the nation’s symbol of liberty.

Dr. Julie Davis’ spurs jangled across the tile floor at her office, Carolina Veterinary Hospital, as she prepped the large raptor for examination. She had driven her motorcycle over but had planned to ride her horse that afternoon. Her plans for fun flew to a dead stop when a bald eagle was the victim of a hit-and-run.

According to witnesses, the eagle was hit by a small red sedan, and it fled the scene on May 28 at 7 p.m. on N.C. Highway 1 near the Cranes Creek Road intersection in Cameron.

The eagle was eating a snapping turtle that had been crushed in the middle of the road.

Bald eagles are easy to spot because of their distinctive white heads and size.

Witnesses, a U.S. Marine and a female companion stayed nearby and called several agencies for assistance, including the highway patrol, local law enforcement, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission, before calling the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The state officer, Sgt. Kyle Young, contacted Byron Wortham of Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue

Wortham said the bald eagle was in the woods by the time he arrived about an hour later.

“It was fighting!” Wortham said as he spread his arms with clenched fists.

Wortham put on a pair of thick leather gloves that passed his elbows and grasped his forearm, mimicking the angry bird.

“You wouldn’t believe the power,” Wortham said.

Bald eagles are no longer endangered but are protected. And in North Carolina are considered a threatened species under federal law.

“It’s something else that we rescued a bald eagle on Memorial Day weekend,” Wortham said.

Memorial Day is the federal holiday recognizing those who died to keep America free.

Davis examined the injured raptor.

“It has birdshot in its butt,” Davis said as she read the radiographs.

'Good guys' work save bald eagle

Dr. Julie Davis reads the eagle’s radiographs May 29, 2022, at Carolina Veterinary Hospital.

Radiographs of each wing, leg, and body were taken as part of the trauma evaluation, and the raptor was lightly “gassed” to keep the strong bird inactive, but Wortham was called in several times to keep a firm grasp on its legs.

Good guys work to save bald eagle

Byron Wortham of Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue secures the eagle’s legs May 29, 2022, for Dr. Julie Davis.

Davis reported a broken leg; a mid-tibia fracture, which she determined was old due to bone callus. It’s a female and weighs approximately 6 pounds.

The bird was banded, a practice to track the protected birds.

The band’s unique identification number showed the female raptor hatched in 2009. It was originally from Lake County, Florida near Mount Dora, home to a chain of lakes with a growing human population. The raptor was banded again in 2012 by John Newhouser, and it is suspected that is when the first fracture occurred.

The old fracture is on the right leg and will be repined by Dr. Joni Shimp at Cape Fear Raptor Center in Rocky Point. The nonprofit raptor center has an educational focus and is working to open to the public in June.

Byron was given an anti-inflammatory to administer to the raptor before making the 2.5-hour trip.

The bald eagle is expected to recover in four to six weeks.

It will be released near the location it was found, as advised by Davis.

“We’ll release it at Cameron Boy’s Camp,” Wortham said.

“Let me know when,” Davis said.

It is rare to experience a bald eagle because they are so distinctive in appearance, and most people know it is illegal to harass or harm the nation’s symbol of liberty.

Guys work to save bald eagle

Byron Wortham of Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue secures the bald eagle May 29 2022, at Carolina Veterinary Hospital. Some talons are up to three inches long.

The bald eagle’s life span is up to 30 years with good hunting grounds and 50 years in captivity.

This female bald eagle has traveled 560 miles, endured buckshot in the buttocks, broke its right leg twice, was hit by a car, and is going to undergo surgery for a second time.

This unfortunate surgery is because the bald eagle learned to hunt food on the highway. People throw out garbage with food scraps and run over turtles, making for easy fixings.

If you know someone who runs over turtles, let them know, the “good guys” are writing down license plate numbers.

Anyone who knows information about the bald eagle’s hit-and-run by the small, red sedan is requested to call the Wildlife Enforcement Division at 1-800-662-7137, or (919) 707-0040, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (919) 856-4786.

Under federal and state law, it is illegal for anyone to injure, harass, kill or possess a bird of prey or any parts of a bird of prey. This includes harming or removing a nest.

Feature photo: Dr. Julie Davis and Byron Wortham of Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue work to rehab an injured bald eagle at Carolina Veterinary Hospital.

~Article and photos by Sandhills Sentinel Journalist Stephanie M. Sellers. Contact her at [email protected]

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