Fontenelle Forest raptor center releases 3 eagles, 2 hawks back into the wild

September 24, 2018

In January, Brandy and Don Iwanski found a bald eagle hopping around near Comstock, Nebraska. It was unable to fly after a gunshot wound to its wing.

The Raptor Recovery program at Fontenelle Forest didn’t think that the eagle would fly again because of the wound and lead poisoning. But the feathers regrew.

The program released three eagles and two hawks in front of hundreds of people who gathered at the Neale Woods Nature Center in northeast Omaha on Saturday afternoon.

Brandy Iwanski released the eagle she and her husband found, a female weighing about 8 pounds, back into the wild. She cried tears of joy when she let the eagle go, she said.

“I’m glad she’s free,” Iwanski said. “Don’t be afraid to help a raptor. Just because they have a beak and claws ... don’t leave them out there to die. There’s no reason for it.”

On Saturday, each bird was paraded through the crowd before being released, giving attendees an opportunity to see them up close.

“Once you look in that eagle’s eyes, and you can see that eagle looking at the outdoors, that’s a really good feeling,” program director Denise Lewis said.

The birds came from all over Nebraska. A young Cooper’s hawk was released after being trapped in an Omaha warehouse. A red-tailed hawk and two other eagles were found skinny and hungry in Valley and Nehawka. All three eagles were less than 5 years old.

The number of raptors released has been increasing each year, Lewis said, likely because of more awareness and the success of population recovery efforts.

“We have plenty more (eagles) to take the place of these guys,” Lewis said. “We get so many eagles now that it’s something else.”

The Raptor Recovery team, the only one of its kind in Nebraska, works to heal eagles, hawks, owls, falcons and turkey vultures. It has about 130 volunteer transporters and five full-time staff members.

Lewis encouraged anyone who finds an injured or sick raptor to call the program’s hotline at 866-888-7261.

Not every bird can be released. Lewis said the program has encountered 12 eagles so far this year.

“Whenever we can release at least one eagle back to the wild is a good thing,” Lewis said. “To be able to do three at once, this was a pretty neat day.”

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