GRAMERCY — A juvenile male bald eagle looked around Wednesday morning, seemingly confused at his first brush with freedom in more than a month.
He quickly gathered himself and flew away into a group of trees some 200 yards away in a swampy area along La. 641 north of Gramercy.
His counterpart, an adult female, wasted no time reclaiming her freedom. As the door to her kennel opened, she flew out immediately, staying on a low trajectory before veering off to the left and into a separate group of trees.
The two eagles had spent approximately a month at LSU’s Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana, where they were nursed back to health. They had arrived at the hospital within days of each other and aren’t believed to be related.
Dr. Javier Nevarez, the Wildlife Hospital director, said the adult female, which is believed to be about 4 years old, was turned over to the hospital after being found near Gramercy suffering from organophosphate toxicity, generally caused by exposure to pesticides.
The juvenile, which is only a few months old, had been knocked out of his nest in Sorrento.
The two birds were released together, Nevarez said, in hopes that the older eagle would serve as a mentor for the younger one.
“The goal is that hopefully the adult will give the juvenile some guidance,” he said.
Earlier in the morning, the two eagles finished off their final breakfast in captivity before Nevarez rounded them up with the assistance of Dr. Joao Brandao and Dr. Jimmy Johnson and placed them in their kennels for the 45-minute drive south to Gramercy. The three doctors were accompanied by seven LSU veterinary students who served as a makeshift cheer squad as the two eagles flew off to freedom.
“That’s awesome,” Brandao, a resident doctor in zoological medicine at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, said while reviewing footage of the flights.
“It definitely means a lot,” said Johnson, an intern who has worked at the Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana for almost a year. “It’s extraordinarily rewarding.”
The bald eagle is no longer considered an endangered species, but retains federal protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
There were only four known eagle pairs in the state in 1960. Through conservation efforts, the population skyrocketed to 337 pairs by 2007.
Tom Hess, the manager of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, said LDWF stopped its tracking and counting efforts in 2007 when the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list.
While there aren’t any known figures for the numbers of bald eagles in Louisiana, the birds appear to be doing well.
“All indications are eagles are in good shape,” Hess said.
Johnson said the two eagles released Wednesday underwent physical exams and full medical care at the Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana before being transferred to flight cages, where they showed an ability to fly and built up muscle mass to sustain life in the wild.
Nevarez said Wednesday was an exciting day because 2013 has been “a tough year for eagles” with only three being rehabilitated and released so far. Roughly half of the eagles turned over to the hospital do not survive their injuries, he said, but he has high expectations for the pair released on Wednesday.
“Their health is in such good condition that we think they’re gonna do well,” Nevarez said.