Sauk Prairie area residents will get two opportunities for witnessing eagle releases

January 9, 2019

Members of the Raptor Education Group Inc. will release up to five bald eagles Jan. 12, with another three possible Jan. 19 during Bald Eagle Watching Days.

It might come to the surprise of many, after the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council first announced no eagles would be ready for release in time for the event. Once it was decided last week up to three eagles would be released after all, Ferry Bluff Eagle Council President Gene Unger was thrilled, noting it is sometimes difficult to plan for these events because the birds heal on their own time.

On Jan. 8, Raptor Education Group Inc. co-founder and executive director Marge Gibson said the group would be making its way to Prairie du Sac Jan. 12 to release up to five rehabilitated eagles. Typically only three birds can fit in the organization’s van due to the large size of their cages, but Gibson said they are getting some help Jan. 12.

Two of the five eagles set to be released this Saturday were raised as babies from the group’s foster parents. They had reportedly fallen from a nest.

“They were both starving coming in,” Gibson said. “Sometimes when they fall from the nest they injure themselves on way down, so even if the mother is there they might not be able to eat. And by the time they are rescued, they come to us really critical.”

Gibson said the former babies — both females — are “perfect” and have been in the organization’s big flight training facility since September.

Another eagle set to be released came into the group with a broken leg, one was recovering from lead poisoning and a fifth had poor feather quality and had to have time to regrow them.

During the release planned Jan. 19 during Bald Eagle Watching Days, Gibson said one eagle in particular that had a rough road could be ready for flight. Gibson said the male eagle was recovered from a wastewater treatment plant and was likely trapped there for two weeks.

“That’s one we are still looking at,” Gibson said. “Most of those places are covered but at one point it must have gotten in through an area that was temporarily open and no one saw him. It probably flew in there chasing after a mouse or rat and then couldn’t get itself out.”

Gibson herself recovered the critically-ill eagle from the sewage muck in August of 2017.

“His feathers, had degraded because there are chemicals in sewage to liquefy it,” Gibson said. “His skin was exposed and many of the feathers had melted from the chemicals. He’s been with us over a year because he had to regrow all his feathers and heal his skin. He’s had a real tough road, but now he’s doing perfect. I just hope he stays away from sewage treatment plants now.”

Lisa Gaumintz of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said their most recent nest surveys show a record number of bald eagle nests statewide.

WDNR Conservation Biologist Rich Staffen elaborated.

“It’s looking really great for the eagles,” Staffen said. “We are seeing increasing numbers of nesting bald eagles. We are soon releasing our next report, which shows we have 1,695 known nest sites — that’s an increase of over 100 since last year. Now we have nesting eagles in 71 of our 72 counties, with Milwaukee County being the exception.”

Locally, Staffen said there are well over 35 nesting pairs of eagles from the Prairie du Sac dam to the Mississippi River. Staffen said the Wisconsin River — especially right around the dam — is a great resource for the birds. “Right now is when we would typically expect a large concentration of eagles there,” Staffen said. “But the lack of snow and open water means right now they are very dispersed in the area.”

With colder temperatures coming this week and snow predicted Saturday, that could change.

“There are some around but certainly not the large amount we have come to expect,” Staffen said. “If it gets colder, that could bring more. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we do get some cold weather and that concentrates them more.”

Staffen said Bald Eagle Watching Days is important for several reasons, most of which is educational.

“The event draws a lot of people and helps them understand not only the eagles but other birds, too,” Staffen said. “I think it that speaks to how popular (Bald Eagle Watching Days) is, because people keep coming back.”

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