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Bald Eagle Release with Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

Once upon a time ago (before I became a Mama) I used to volunteer with Audubon Center for Birds of Pretty in Maitland (Orlando), Florida. I mostly cleaned the bird mews for the non-releasable resident birds, as well as the birds who were in rehab. I also helped prepare diets, or helped in the clinic when needed. When my hours at work changed, finding time to volunteer got harder and harder. Then I got pregnant, had my baby, and well, sadly, I just fell off the volunteer train. I miss the birds constantly, but now being a super busy never-stay-at-home-Mama, I honestly don't think I could commit to any steady hours.

Around that same time, I told my stepmom she should volunteer for their Eagle Watch program. Audubon has volunteers from all over who consistently watch specific nests during the bald eagle nesting season, and report back to Audubon things such as nesting behavior, if there are any nest disturbances, if/how many babies hatch, and if/when they fledge. She had been casually watching a nest she'd found while boating out of pure fascination, and had no idea that such a program existed. Flash forward to now, almost 4 years later, she is one of their most valuable Eagle Watch volunteers and monitors over 30 nests each season (of course with the help and company of my Dad...sorry Dad, you do a lot of the work, but don't get the credit, haha!).

During my years with Audubon, I have been so fortunate to do many releases with owls, hawks and vultures. Eagle releases, however, those are super special! So when they called her to see if she wanted to release one, you can imagine how excited she was! I am so proud of her and my dad for all of the hard work they put in each year to report such important information on this magnificent animal. The information these Eagle Watchers provide is one of the biggest reasons bald eagles have been able to increase in population and be removed from the endangered species list.

The bird she released is a female, hatched just a few months ago. Bald eagles, like most birds, grow to their full size rather quickly, but do not have their full adult plumage colors until they are 5 years old. During years 0-4 they slowly transition, and it's actually really cool to see the changes during those years. She was found on the ground, and after being observed for some time, FWC decided to pick her up and bring her to Audubon Center for Birds of Prey for evaluation and rehab. After being treated for avian mites (very common) she was quickly deemed a healthy bird and was sent on her way! Good luck young lady and stay out of trouble!

That wingspan!!
And she's off! Juveniles are released close to the ground, in case they are clumsy

Please note the bands on her legs (pictured below). If you ever photograph an eagle, or any animal with an identifier, please always contact the appropriate agency to report your sighting. This data is so invaluable to the long term studies of eagles and other species. The silver band is a federal band, used for identifying her for the remainder of her life. Typically, females are banded on their right leg, males are banded on their left leg - mistakes do happen though, so this is not completely reliable. The green band is part of a newer long-term study. Started in 2017, biologists are looking at the pattern of eagles nesting in artificial structures, such as power poles or cell towers. Babies hatched from artificial structures are banded with black bands, while birds hatched in trees are banded with green. The goal of the study is to see if birds hatched from artificial structures prefer to build their nests in similar structures once they reach sexual maturity, or if there is no correlation. This type of data will be extremely valuable as eagle populations increase, while they're habitats decrease, and they are forced into more suburban areas.

Another Eagle Watch volunteer, Michelle, released a male juvenile bald eagle the same day

A quick hop...
And he's off!

Fun facts about the bald eagle

  • Bald eagles can be found almost anywhere in the United States. Check out this range map from The Cornell Lab

  • Florida has the 3rd highest number of bald eagles, surpassed only by Alaska and Minnesota. I find it interesting that the highest numbers are found in such extreme opposite climates.

  • Bald eagles went almost extinct because of hunting and DDT. The Bald Eagle Act of 1940 and the banning of DDT in the 1970s are why we can still enjoy this beautiful bird today.

  • While no longer listed as endangered, these birds still face great threats including habitat/nest destruction, vehicle collisions and territorial fights (because their habitat is being destroyed)

  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services run the National Eagle Repository. While it is illegal to possess any part of a bald or golden eagle in the U.S., including their feathers, it is recognized that these feathers hold significant religious and cultural value to Native Americans. Learn more about how the repository keeps these cultural practices possible, without harming eagle populations unnecessarily.

  • Females being the larger of the sexes, they can have a wingspan up to 8 feet and grow to 14 pounds. It might seem like they'd be heavier, but remember they have hollow bones. Their feathers actually weigh more than their bones!

  • The oldest known eagle was killed by a car collision in 2015, at 38 years old. It was banded in 1977.

  • If they are a successful breeding pair, eagles will usually mate for life.

  • Nest size can vary, however the largest recorded bald eagle nest, located in St. Petersburg, Florida, was 9.5 feet in diameter, 20 feet deep and weighed almost 6,000 pounds.

  • Each year, eagle couples will typically hatch and fledge 1-3 babies, and both parents care for the young.

  • It is very common for eagles to "adopt" other babies. This is commonly used when rehabbers need to rehome a baby and cannot return it to their original nest.

  • Apparently Hollywood does not like the call of a bald eagle and often dubs it over with the call of a red-tailed hawk to make it sound more ferocious. If you think you know what an eagle sounds like, you might be mistaken! While perhaps not as intimidating as the red-tailed hawk, it is one of the most beautiful and recognizable bird calls you'll ever hear.

Resources to check out

Just a few of the types of birds you might expect to see when you visit Audubon Center For Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida. These birds were rescued and were deemed unreleasable and now live at the center permanently. There are many reasons an animal will be deemed unreleasable, often due to a severe illness or injury.

Just a handful of the incredible conservation ambassador animals that were rehabbed at Audubon CBOP and are now living their lives at other facilities. It's always sad when an animal is deemed unfit to return to the wild (that is always the goal!), however the next best thing is to train them to be ambassadors for their species and educate others. As one of my favorite quotes says: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”

And last, some of my favorite pictures from when I was a volunteer. Even though volunteering isn't fitting in with my season of life right now, I think about these animals often and miss being around them.

1 Comment

Cat L
Cat L
May 23, 2021

SO proud of your love of nature, your sharing with others, and your kind and generous heart! I am humbled by your sweet words! Love you girl!

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