Eastham Eagle Gets a New Lease on Life

EASTHAM — The eagle has landed – somewhere.

Like the proverbial arrow shot into the air, where it lands Wild Care knows not where but after their care the young bald eagle named Nauset has a healthy future after her release from the crest of Fort Hill in Eastham Saturday at two o’clock.

Close to a hundred people watched Wild Care volunteers unlatch the eagle’s cage as she shot out before startled onlookers and like many a thrill seeker quickly departed Eastham for the bright lights of Orleans.

“The eagle has topped all our stories,” Wild Care director Stephanie Ellis told the crowd. “This is such a wonderful inspiring story and it’s such and incredible facility and the staff is so passionate. We take in 800 to 1,500 animals every year and it’s quite a lot of work to do for just the five of us including myself. We are totally grassroots and rely 100 percent on your donations.”

The juvenile eagle was initially sighted in emaciated condition in Nauset Heights in Orleans in late July.

“The eagle landed and it was on my house for a couple of hours,” recalled Roberta Hurlburt, who gave the bird its name. “It hit the side of the house and climbed up to the top of the peak.”

“She was severely emaciated. I think she didn’t eat during her migration,” explained Alex Mueller, a rehabilitator at Wild Care in Eastham. “She was so skinny at first we didn’t know she was a girl (female eagles are larger). Now she is double the size she was then. She’s all brown and muddy looking, not majestic like on the dollar bill but she’s still a sight to see.”

Mueller was the first responder from Wild Care.

“The eagle was sitting on a roof for five or six hours. It was being mobbed by mockingbirds, that’s why she noticed it,” Mueller recalled. “I came out when she called and five minutes after that she glided to Nauset Beach. She was sitting between people playing badminton and sunbathing. They didn’t know what it was until they saw me trying the catch it. I couldn’t catch her by myself even though she was weak.”

For the next few days Mueller got calls about the eagle’s whereabouts, finally on July 29, she and volunteer Ron Kielb tracked it down near Coast Guard Beach.

“It was kind of sitting on a railing,” Kielb said. “We popped out from behind a bush and chased it down. It was the first one I’ve ever seen.”

“She was bedraggled enough that she couldn’t put up much of a fight. She ended up coming down in a rainstorm, she was sopping wet and couldn’t fly and we jumped on top of her,” Mueller explained. “We weighed her and did blood work and tube fed her fluids and gave her one fish.”

Once Nauset was strengthened (she ate a towel on the bottom of the cage) she took a drive to Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

“They wormed her and fattened her up and gave her plenty of exercise,” Mueller said.

Wild Care has a state of the art aviary to rehabilitate birds indoors but the flyway was a few feet too narrow, 11 feet when it needed to be 15, for an eagle with a five and half foot wingspan. Eagles are rare on Cape Cod but juveniles will spend summers here. The nearest breeding eagles are in Plymouth or the Assawompset Pond complex in Lakeville. Wild Care doesn’t see many.

“It’s the first since we were incorporated (in 1994),” noted Ellis. “She was here for a day.”

Nauset is about a year old and probably flew up the coastline from Florida. Tom French banded the bird and if it’s sighted again it can be tracked.

“The birds became almost extinct in Massachusetts until the banning of DDT (in 1972),” Mueller said. “I’m happy to say their population is now considered threatened, that’s a little less than endangered. This bird is an amazing survival story.”

“They’re still not breeding on the Cape but they’re sighting more in the winter every year,” noted Mark Faherty of Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. “The best place to see them on Cape is Mashpee/Wakeby Pond and Long Pond in Harwich and Brewster in the winter.”

Fort Hill was the place to see an eagle on Saturday. Mueller warned the crowd of more than 50 people to be quiet “like a golf tournament” so as not frighten the eagle. But it was the eagle that frightened and thrilled the multitude when she shot out of the cage bereft of timidity and buzzed the audience before flapping down Fort Hill across Nauset and then turning along the shore towards the Town Cove.

“We invited Nauset Heights because the residents helped us, they kept seeing the eagle. I didn’t know this many people would show,” marveled Ellis.

Currently Wildcare is caring for 15 baby birds, 10 adults, more than 20 baby squirrels, a box turtle and a painted turtle that had a fish hook through its mouth.

Read more: PHOTO GALLERY: Eastham eagle gets new lease on life – The Cape Codder

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