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Eagle Release-Part II: Education

As a wildlife rehabilitator one of the many hats worn by Marge Gibson, Executive Director of Raptor Education Group, Inc. is that of educator. With a crowd of more than 3,000 people gathered to watch the release of 4 rehabilitated bald eagles, it was a prime opportunity to send people away with more than just memories and photographs, but also some new found knowledge. Marge Gibson of Raptor Education Group, Inc. craddles a rehabilitated bald eagle while fielding questions from the crowd.

Here are some "factoids" shared by Marge throughout the day:

* Female bald eagles are 1/3 larger than their male counterparts. This physical characteristic is one of the only ways (short of taking specific measurements or DNA testing) to tell the difference between the sexes and of course it only works when their proximity allows you to "make the call".
* While newly hatched bald eaglets will reach nearly their full grown size by the end of their first season, they will not achieve their trademarked white head and tail plumage until they reach sexual maturity around ages 4 or 5.
* A female bald eagle can weigh as much as 14 pounds with a wing span ranging from 6 1/2 to 8 feet. The smaller male may weigh up to 10 pounds with a slightly shorter wingspan of 6 to 7 feet.
* The average lifespan of a bald eagle in the wild is 15 to 20 years.
* Eagles are generally considered "scavengers" in that they are best suited to dine on the remains of animal carcasses or dead/dying fish. It is believed that an adult bald eagle can consume up to 3 POUNDS at a single sitting. Like all birds, eagles have a "crop" in which the food is stored and made available for consumption on demand.
* Both the male and female bald eagles play an active part in raising their young. Unlike mammals where the female is required to provide nutrients via her milk, young birds are happy to be fed by whomever is willing to provide the meal.
* Eagles, like most birds, can become somewhat territorial during breeding season. REGI prefers to release rehabilitated eagles outside this "territorial time".

A juvenile bald eagle demonstrates wing span with the help of it's rehabilitator, Marge Gibson, of Raptor Education Group, Inc.

Greatest Threats:
* Poisoning - The carcass or "gut pile" of wild game is an easy meal for a bird like the bald eagle. Unfortunately when that wild animal was killed using lead-based ammunition or some other form of poison, that meal itself is poison. While poisoning cases are often treatable if caught in time, those involving lead poisoning are incredibly expensive with the pharmaceutical costs alone exceeding $2,000 per case!
* Vehicular Collisions - Road kill also makes for an attractive meal for our feathered friends. Eagles are large birds and, as such, require time to "get out of the way". Consider the previously mentioned fact that they can increase their weight by as much as 1/3rd in a single sitting at the dinner table and of course their reaction time will be even slower.
* West Nile Virus - While this deadly mosquito-borne virus originally had the greatest impact on crows and blue jays, it has mutated in recent years with devastating effects on the raptor population as well.
* Trapping/Snaring - While experienced and responsible trappers take steps to prevent injury to unintended wildlife, there are those who are not as responsible. Placing leg hold type traps in habitat attractive to eagles can have tragic consequences. Loose fishing line is also a common problem when the birds become ensnared and cannot free themselves.
* Shooting - Not so long ago in our history the shooting of bald eagles was a common practice as they were considered a threat to livestock. Even though studies have since proven otherwise and they are now federally protected such actions still occur as a result of fears based on misinformation and untruths. A recent viral video produced as part of a college computer graphics assignment depicted a golden eagle swooping down into a park to seemingly "snatch" a toddler is just such an example. While quickly revealed as a hoax, many experts are citing an increase in eagle shootings stating those shootings can most likely be attributed to igniting false fears in the uneducated public.

With the exception of West Nile Virus, every one of the major threats faced by these incredible creatures are manmade. That's right. Our fellow humans and their direct or indirect actions are responsible for the vast majority of cases seen by Raptor Education Group and other wildlife rehabilitators around the world. Undoubtedly there are countless more deaths for those not lucky enough to be found and provided treatment.
Spectators at the Eagle Release held at Sauk Prairie's Bald Eagle Watching Days 2013 got "up close and personal" with 1 of 4 rehabilitated eagles released that day.
What YOU Can Do to Help:
* As humans, we've identified and addressed the dangers of lead pipes, lead-based paints and fuels, etc. With alternatives available, it's time to take a stand on the use of lead in the wild as well. Seek out alternative options for lead-based fishing tackle and/or hunting ammunition. It's readily available and as easy to implement as making the right choice.
* Discontinue the use of household poisons such as rat or mice poisons. Animals killed through poisoning have long lasting upward effects on the food chain.
* Keep a pair of gloves or small shovel in your vehicle and help to remove road kill "meals" off of roadways. While the carcass may still end up being lunch at least you've reduced the risk of a bird/vehicle collision.
* If you witness a hazardous trapping or snaring situation in which a bird may become entangled, take a minute to neutralize it. If it's a leg hold type trap, contact your local wildlife authorities to express your concern.
* Share your wildlife views with your legislators. Let them now that projects designed to support and protect wildlife are critical and are deserving of your tax dollars.
* Support a favorite wildlife charity with your time, money or other needed supplies.
* Most importantly, share your views by educating friends, family and acquaintances. Having a greater shared understanding of how incredibly important and precious our wild friends are to our own existence can help their plight. This is the only planet we have and it's as much theirs as it is ours.
We're not done yet. Continue to watch the blog as we share the rest of this amazing experience throughout the week.
If you didn't happen to catch it, you may also enjoy these prior related posts:
Eagle Release-Part I: The Arrival


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