An Eagle’s Journey to Recovery and Release

Hera Flight 1

We are very excited to share that a 3 year old Bald Eagle nicknamed “Hera” (patient 23-1189) is ready for release following 9 months of treatment. Hera has had a long and winding road to recovery. Through it all, her personality has shown through: Hera is a powerful, inquisitive, confident eagle ready to take on the world. 

Hera’s Journey at HARP

On June 28, 2023, Hera was found on the ground near Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, and admitted to our colleagues at Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh’s Wildlife Center (HARP). There, she received treatment for a concussion and lead toxicity. Hera recovered from those issues, but eagles are such powerful birds that they can injure themselves while in care, and Hera is a particularly forceful eagle. In the course of her care at HARP, Hera clinched her feet so strongly that she created a deep puncture wound in the center of her foot from her talons. Eagles have poor circulation to their feet, making any foot wound prone to infection, and the injury became severely infected.

Arriving at Tamarack Wildlife Center

Hera was transferred to Tamarack Wildlife Center in mid-July due to our specialty in eagle treatment. During the summer of 2023, Hera was one of seven eagles receiving treatment at TWC at the same time, which was a new record for our center. Most of the others required shorter treatment and were released in summer or fall.

Hera required intensive care to resolve her foot infection, a winding journey that took many months. Treatment included pressure relieving bandages, wound care, and medications. Hera was fitted with a foam “boot”, specially sized to fit her foot, so that her talons curved over the edge of the foam, with slots carved for each toe to rest in. A center hole of foam was removed to relieve pressure at the location of her healing wound. Once the fitting was complete, the boot was wrapped and taped into place. In order to clean and treat her wound, the boot was removed and replaced several times each week. During her treatments, Hera wore a leather hood to help her remain calm by reducing her ability to see. Staff worked quietly to further reduce her stress, and her other foot was also bandaged to allow for a smaller wound on that foot to heal.

Through her treatment, our strongest staff and volunteers were chosen to assist in restraint as Hera is a particularly powerful eagle both physically and in attitude. Hera also demonstrated her curiosity as well, and enjoyed tearing and shredding enrichment items such as egg cartons and dog toys left in her aviary. When we left a camera in her aviary to get a video, we got surprise footage of her walking over and pecking at the camera. 

Surgery Required for Success

In August, we arranged for Hera to have surgery in Cleveland with a prominent avian surgeon, Dr. Lindstrom, to remove remaining necrotic tissue and implant antibiotic impregnated beads to deliver antibiotics directly to the region. This is a specialized technique that has been successful in other challenging cases. 

The surgery was successful in helping to resolve the infection, but Hera still required a pressure relieving “boot”  and frequent wound care to help heal the surgical incision. Her medical journey took a twist when it became clear that her body was rejecting one of the antibiotic beads. One bead was being absorbed, but her body appeared to perceive the second bead as an invader, like a splinter, and was expelling that bead which delayed the full healing of her wound. The continued wound care and need for regular bandage changes meant she needed to be housed in a medium sized aviary to enable easy capture. We were concerned that Hera had the potential to injure herself in that size aviary as she felt stronger, but knew her foot wounds needed to be fully healed before she could shift to our large eagle flight building. 

Hera’s Healing Setback

With her feet healing well, her last bandage change was planned for Thanksgiving day. Then her foot wraps would be removed, and she would go to the large flight building. As our rehabber Jess approached the aviary that day, she heard Hera make a loud crash. Alas, Hera had launched herself at a wall, fracturing a bone in her shoulder girdle and creating large wounds on the “wrist” of each wing. Thankfully the injured bone is one that heals well with time, and the wounds were treatable. Hera received a wing splint to support her healing bone, with bandages and medication for her wounds. 

Recovery Complete! Preparation for Release

By January, she was fully healed at last and ready for our eagle flight building. There she has gradually regained the stamina she needs for release. Her inquisitive personality has continued to be evident. One of the highest perches in her aviary is held up by ropes that go through a pulley system. Ever curious, Hera has repeatedly chewed through the rope, dropping the perch to the ground. The rope is now reinforced with duct tape to resist her nibbling. 

We are very excited that after all the twists and turns in her recovery, Hera is ready for release. We will be holding our breath though, until she is safely back in the open skies where she belongs. 

It has been a deep privilege to treat this amazing eagle and we are grateful for the supporters and colleagues who have made her recovery possible. 

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