Cooperators rehabilitate and will now track a bald eagle in the Androscoggin Valley
TURNER, Maine -- A female adult eagle began a new life yesterday as it was released along the banks of the Androscoggin River, nearly six months after the then-injured eagle had been captured. The eagle also is the first in Maine to carry a satellite transmitter which will allow biologists to track its movements.
"The eagle's successful rehabilitation is the result of a cooperative effort by many," said Roland D. Martin, Commissioner, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. "Endangered species management often combines the work of volunteers, the private sector, and the department. This cooperation is vital since the state's funding for endangered species comes from private contributions through the purchase of loon plates and the chickadee tax check-off."
The eagle's second chance began with a release yesterday at Twitchell's Seaplane Base in Turner. The eagle carries a satellite transmitter to track its fate and location. Satellite systems pinpoint the bird's location periodically and yield new insights into seasonal movements, foraging areas, use of impoundments, relationships to mercury exposure, etc.
"Bald eagle recovery is still in the early stages across western Maine, and only 13 breeding pairs now nest in the entire Androscoggin River watershed. Breeding eagles disappeared from the region for 17 years until a gradual return began in 1990," according to Charlie Todd, a biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The state's eagle population has been tracked since 1962 by combined efforts of IFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Maine, and National Audubon Society. Earlier this year, this injured flightless adult eagle scampered several hundred yards along a golf course in Auburn before being caught by game warden John MacDonald on June 16. The chase lasted nearly three hours before MacDonald was able to corner and then capture the bird. Each year, concerned citizens report dozens of dead or injured eagles in Maine. After more than 27 years of recognition as an Endangered or Threatened Species, caring citizens are always on the lookout for the birds, their nests, or potential problems.
The treatment and release of this bird typify the network of cooperation vital to eagle recovery in Maine. Game warden MacDonald sought immediate medical attention for the eagle at Lewiston's Animal Emergency Clinic of mid-Maine. Volunteers transported the eagle the next day for further treatment to Avian Haven, a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation clinic in Freedom, Maine. Unfortunately, the eagle's flightless condition persisted for more than 5 months.
"Their large wingspan (more than 6 feet) often leads to impact injuries and complications that can ground an eagle," notes Marc Payne of Avian Haven. He and Diane Winn have handled more than 40 eagles at the Avian Haven facility. Terry Heitz built a state-of-the-art flyway cage there to recondition birds for release. Dr. Susan Giglia provided chiropractic treatments. Time and persistence seem to be the key ingredients as the eagle's flight skills began improving in late-October.
This eagle is presumably the resident female at a very unique nest atop a power pole below Gulf Island Dam in nearby Auburn. MDIFW biologists located 385 nesting pairs of eagles across Maine in 2005, but this is the only pair that chose a power pole. Two eaglets hatched here in 2004, but the nest was abandoned suddenly in June this year, the same time frame that the injured eagle was found in Lewiston. Eagles are typically loyal to traditional nests, and biologists hope this one returns to its unique nest. FPL Energy Maine Hydro owns the island that the eagles call home, and Central Maine Power adjusted schedules to accommodate eagles nesting on their power line.
This is a typical outcome when landowners understand the needs of nesting eagles. Officials charting the comeback of eagles across Maine widely agree that landowners are the true champions of this successful recovery program. They endure special regulations that may influence projects on their property and often undertake additional stewardship roles on behalf of eagles.
Bald eagles are notoriously selective of habitat features, rely heavily on waterfront for nesting, and are potentially vulnerable to land use pressures. Some worry that habitat threats may jeopardize eagles in the future after special protections afforded by Endangered Species laws no longer apply. Maine is undertaking a "habitat safety net" approach dovetailing land conservation with landowner agreements to protect core areas. The partnership remains a key ingredient.
Biologists with BioDiversity Research Institute and FPL Energy Maine Hydro are working with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service as part of this transmitter tracking study and are also continuing research on mercury contamination in eagles on Maine lakes and rivers.
The data gathered from the satellite transmitter will be instrumental in future management decisions concerning bald eagles.
FPLE biologist Bill Hanson reports, "the satellite technology has never been used on eagles before in Maine, and most research has centered on eagle population strongholds in eastern Maine. More information on eagles in this region helps wildlife biologists better manage eagles and our own ability to manage FPLE impoundments for special resources." Cooperative studies offset tight budgets for state wildlife management efforts since agency funding is mostly limited to sportsmen dollars and charitable contributions from citizens.
The support and participation of citizens remains a crucial need in Maine. Reports of known or suspected nest locations are especially helpful and can be relayed to any MDIFW office. Sightings of adult eagles during April or May are a strong indicator of local nesting activity.
State funding for bald eagle management and other programs for Endangered / Threatened species in Maine is the Maine Endangered Wildlife Fund. These funds are dedicated to these programs and accrue via direct contributions, the "Chickadee Checkoff" on state income tax returns, or purchase of "loon plates" when registering vehicles in Maine.
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