A cold and steady rain fell Tuesday afternoon at McKay Creek National Wildlife Refuge where Lynn Tompkins and Samantha Castoldi arrived with two bald eagles in plastic carriers.
After months of rehabilitation at Blue Mountain Wildlife, the birds were set to be released back into the wild. They took flight without any hesitation, and in seconds were soaring effortlessly over the reservoir south of Pendleton.
“Two less mouths to feed,” said Tompkins, executive director of Blue Mountain Wildlife, as she watched the eagles fly.
It has been an unusually busy winter at the wildlife rescue, where Tompkins said they have received more than twice as many birds so far in 2017 as they did at this time last year. She figures it has something to do with the extreme cold and snow, though it is difficult to tell just how much of a role the weather has played.
“I’m sure the weather one way or another has had an effect,” Tompkins said.
Blue Mountain Wildlife cares for sick, injured and orphaned animals from across Eastern Oregon and Washington. About half of what they get they can’t treat, Tompkins said, which is why they are so excited when they are able to return native species to their natural habitat.
The eagles released Tuesday were initially brought to the center last summer, including an adult male and immature female. The female was discovered in July by hikers around Jubilee Lake, which they wrapped in a coat and placed in a cooler until it could be collected by wildlife officials.
Tompkins said the bird had a dislocated hip and shoulder, and was unable to fly. She figures there had to be a collision of some kind to sustain those injuries.
The male, however, was more of a mystery. Tompkins said they received the eagle from around Ellensburg, Washington, and though the bird was emaciated and dehydrated, they could not figure out why.
“He was really thin, and he wasn’t eating,” Tompkins said.
Both eagles received weeks of supportive care, including fluids and Tompkins’ famous “mouse slurry,” which doesn’t contain any actual mice but rather contains the same ratio of fat, carbohydrates and protein as a mouse.
Tompkins initially planned to release the eagles at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge across the Columbia River, but weather kept interrupting those plans. Instead, arrangements were made to bring the birds to the nearby McKay Creek Refuge, where Tompkins said they should have plenty of food.
“The winter has been especially hard on our deer and elk,” she said. “Bald eagles are essentially scavengers.”
As Castoldi opened the doors to each carrier, the eagles burst out with a whoosh and quickly maneuvered out of sight.
“They flew very well,” Tompkins said. “They’d been ready to go for a while.”
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0825.