Wildlife Images worker Cyndee Maunu was called to an upper Rogue River farm in February to capture a wounded bald eagle, but the rescue trip quickly became what appeared to be the tragic recovery of a dead raptor.

By Mark Freeman

For the Tidings

MERLIN — Wildlife Images worker Cyndee Maunu was called to an upper Rogue River farm in February to capture a wounded bald eagle, but the rescue trip quickly became what appeared to be the tragic recovery of a dead raptor.

She found the bird comatose and barely breathing, like a feathery rag doll.

"When I held it in my arms, its head flopped down and its wings just sagged," Maunu says. "When I put it in the cage, I thought it had expired."

Now that floppy head is erect, its eyes as steely as ever. And come Tuesday, air again will be beneath the wings of this eagle as it is returned to freedom — the latest animal-rehabilitation success story for this Merlin-based operation.

The eagle that was discovered almost poisoned to death by lead and fertilizer will be freed Tuesday in the air over Lost Creek Lake, near the ranch where it was found less than two months ago.

Surviving dicey and difficult detoxification treatments, the raptor has regained enough strength to rejoin the cadre of eagles that breed each spring along the upper Rogue River.

The cost of treatment? $700. The benefit to animal-care technician Meadow Hilton and the others who had a hand in this tiny snapshot of bald eagle recovery? Beyond priceless.

"It's definitely a success story for us," says Chip Weinert, Wildlife Images' marketing director. "Getting it back into the wild will be great."

No one thought this eagle, seen dragging its wings around the farmer's land Feb. 23, would garner such platitudes.

An initial exam showed no injuries other than minor abrasions over each eye — indicating probable head trauma.

The bird initially was treated with fluids, pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs. By the second day it could open its eyes but not move.

Blood tests determined it suffered from very low levels of lead toxicity and high levels of organophosphate toxicity.

The lead poisoning, Hilton says, likely came from the eagle ingesting a rodent containing lead shot or perhaps even a fish that had a fishing line and lead sinker still attached.

The organophosphates could have come from ingesting rodents coated with phosphate-heavy fertilizers or herbicides, Hilton says. The bird also could have been injured and on the ground when a fertilizer application occurred, she says.

Special treatment and plenty of fluids over the ensuing weeks flushed the toxins from the eagle. In late March it was moved to a large pen, where it stayed alone with little or no human contact.

"We don't want them to realize being around people might be OK for them," Maunu says.

Tethered to a creance, the bird this past week has passed three flight tests, so Hilton deemed the 9-pound bird — no one can tell whether it's a male or female without an invasive exam — ready for release.

Weinert says Tuesday's release will be the first bald eagle that Wildlife Images has treated and released since November 2006, when an eagle found wounded in Brookings was released along the Rogue east of Gold Beach.

On Tuesday, this eagle will fly again near the same ridge overlooking Lost Creek Lake where Wildlife Images founder David Siddon Sr. released a bald eagle he rehabbed and released 18 years ago.

Helping bald eagles never gets old for Maunu.

"This eagle is amazing," Maunu says. "He's made a miraculous turn-around and in such a short amount of time," Maunu says.

"These are the ones when you say, 'YES!' "

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.