By Nicole Hennessy
Jumping from limb to limb in its enclosure, the nameless bald eagle at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s wildlife garden lands with a thump each time it attempts to fly the longest distance possible. A few brown spots on its white head imply it may be younger, since the breed doesn’t develop its signature white feathers until adulthood.
Two metal bands wrap around its talons, indicating its rehabilitation, and it continues to scurry from branch to branch, its feathers audibly ruffling.
With another thump, it lands on the ground, getting used to its new home.
Found dehydrated and thin in Virginia, the eagle is now being treated by center workers for a leg injury. Officials expect its rehabilitation and recovery to keep it from public exhibit until the spring of 2013. When it was initially checked, it refused to fly, likely caused by a slight wing droop noticed by wildlife experts. So, rather, it walks around, never getting higher than 100 feet when it does attempt to fly. This is why it was rehabilitated at the Wildlife Center of Virginia and, subsequently, adopted by the nature center, where it will live permanently.
All of the animals in the wildlife garden are native to Northeast Ohio. Most of them were bred or raised in captivity and lack survival skills, so they serve as educational tools for area children.
After its previous bald eagle died, the center began looking for a new one, learning of the new bird’s inability to be released back into the wild.
None of the animals here have names, Frank Colosimo, the visitor experience and communications coordinator, explained.
“We try to make sure they’re as connected to the wild as possible,” he said. “Even though he has to live in captivity, we want him to be wild. And since we know that - we assume, I should say – that birds don’t call each other by name, we try not to give them pet names because they’re really not pets.”
Though Colosimo refers to the eagle with masculine pronouns, nobody’s sure what gender it is due to the fact that its weight is in between the average male and female eagle weight. But they’re leaning toward female. As the bird continues to grow, that will become clearer.
Eagles can live from 15 to 25 years in the wild and possibly longer in captivity, so the staff at the center will have a long time to determine its gender.
No longer a threatened or endangered species in the United States, in recent years Northeast Ohio’s bald eagle population has increased. At one point, only four nesting pairs could be found in Ohio. Now, more than 100 nests can be found throughout the state, and the numbers continue to grow.
Many people may not even notice a juvenile eagle that has yet to develop its white feathers.
Observing this eagle will help children understand these things and learn about the species’ habits.
Walking back inside toward his office, which overlooks the new bird’s enclosure, Colosimo mentions how expensive it is to maintain all the animals in the wildlife garden, and points out a poster board in the lobby encouraging visitors to donate to the center so they can continue to provide the best care possible for their adoptees.
The center is open, free of charge, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, but is closed on holidays, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.