Bald eaglet nursed to health, returned to wild

A bald eaglet found injured in a fallen nest has been nursed back to health and reunited with its family, East Bay Regional Park officials said Friday.   

The eaglet was living in a "nest at risk" on ranchland near the Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore when the trunk supporting the nest snapped during a heavy windstorm on June 11.   

The nest was blown out of the tree and fell to the ground with the 10.5-week-old male eaglet inside it.   Ranchers noticed the fallen nest the next morning with adult bald eagles standing guard next to it. The eaglet was atop the fallen nest with its wing folded back, making it particularly vulnerable. The eaglet's sibling was nowhere in sight.     

The eaglet was a fledgling, a stage of life between hatching and becoming capable of flight. Ranchers worried that the eaglet's feathers and wing muscles may be sufficiently developed for flying but not yet capable of flight.   

Park District Wildlife Biologist David "Doc Quack" Riensche, Wildlife Program Manager Doug Bell and ranch managers climbed up the steep slope to remove the eaglet from the fallen nest and take it to Lindsay Wildlife Hospital in Walnut Creek. X-rays showed that the eaglet had a fractured wing bone.   

While the eaglet was healing at the hospital, ranch managers saw its sibling in flight and heard it calling to its parents.   

"We were relieved to know that the sibling had survived the tree collapse and its 'forced fledging', as it were," said Riensche. "This gave us confidence that if the eaglet at Lindsay Wildlife Hospital recovered quickly, we could reunite it with its family."   

By the end of June, the eaglet's wing had healed, and federal and state agencies began coordinating its return to the wild.   Riensche lugged a crate with the eaglet inside it back up the steep slope where it had been rescued from. He placed the crate on a large log and gave the eaglet time to recognize its surroundings.   

A while later, the eaglet walked out of the crate and made its way up the log. After Riensche left, ranchers heard the eaglet calling to its parents for food, though they couldn't see the bird flying in the sky.   

"At this point, the released eaglet calling was a good sign, and we hoped the adults would respond by feeding it soon," explained Doug Bell. "We were thinking it might stay grounded for a couple of days, or just take short hopping flights until it built up muscle tone," he added.   

The next day, ranchers saw the eaglet and its sibling together in a tree with their parents, all together just in time for the Fourth of July.