More than a year ago Mark Taff spotted a large bird sitting under a bush in his Richland backyard.
When it was still there the next day, he called Blue Mountain Wildlife for help.
A surprise was in store for the rescue volunteer who stopped by his house on Briarwood Court near Leslie Groves Park.
The bird was not a hawk, as is common in the area. Instead, the volunteer found a large, but still immature, female bald eagle that did not yet have a white head.
The female, along with a second bald eagle rescued near Mesa in Franklin County, will be released into the wild on Saturday at the Winter Birds event in Burbank south of Pasco.
Both were found in January 2018 and needed more than a year of rehabilitation to prepare them to return to the wild.
The public is invited to the free event, which also has other family-friendly activities, at the environmental education center at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge, 64 Maple St., Burbank.
The bald eagle found near Richland was very weak when it was rescued, said Lynn Tompkins, executive director of the regional rescue agency.
It could not stand well, much less fly.
Slow recovery for Richland eagle
A check at Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in Pendleton found it had the highest lead level the center had ever detected in a wild bird, Tompkins said.
Birds of prey are contaminated with lead when they eat game that has been hit with lead shot. The problem can be prevented by hunters using non-lead ammunition, Tompkins said.
The rescue center treated the bird in an expensive procedure that relies on an injected chelating chemical that binds with the lead in the blood to remove it from the body.
“It was several weeks before we even hoped we could be successful,” Tompkins said.
The eagle could not even tolerate solid food for a month and a half.
“It was just a very long, slow recovery,” Tompkins said.
Even now the bird’s blood is not normal because lead affects the ability to make red blood cells.
The rescue center has concerns about how well the eagle will do in the wild. To monitor the bird, the center will release it with a small telemetry backpack that will track the bird’s location using a satellite signal about three times a week.
Tompkins has no idea where the eagle may head, but if data shows it may be in trouble and it is in an accessible area there is a possibility that it could be rescued.
Bald eagle had split beak
The second bald eagle was found three days after the Richland bird on Jan. 9, 2018, along a road near Mesa north of Pasco.
The grown male, with a white head, had a shoulder injury and a split and broken beak, likely after crashing into something, possibly a car.
He had been shot in the past with a pellet and also had low levels of lead contamination – 4 micrograms per deciliter in his blood compared to 813 micrograms per deciliter in the blood of the female rescued in Richland.
The male eagle’s broken beak had to be filed down, but it has since regrown.
The eagle spent more than a year in the center’s flight pen.
“It just took a long time until it could fly well,” Tompkins said, but she’s confident it can survive in the wild now.
“He’s an adult male. He knows how to make a living,” she said.
The release of the two eagles comes as Blue Mountain Wildlife is working toward a new state-of-the-art wildlife hospital and environmental education center for Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon.
Member Linda Wolcott has agreed to match every dollar donated to Blue Mountain Wildlife through April 20 up to $25,000. Information is posted at www.bluemountainwildlife.org and will be available at the Winter Birds event.
McNary event is kid friendly
The Winter Birds event will be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 64 Maple St., Burbank.
The timing coincides with thousands of migrating ducks and geese that can be seen on the slough at the McNary refuge from the new bird blind near the education center.
Staff and the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society will lead birding tours, and biologists will band birds and discuss the data they collect, weather permitting.
Some activities will be geared toward kids, including a maze, a scavenger hunt and dissection of owl pellets.
The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuges.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.