Icarus was a figure in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun, melted his wings, and then fell into the water. Peace River Wildlife Center admitted a bald eagle this week who was apparently acting out this tragedy. It would seem I am not the only one who has been struck by the thespian bug.
Earlier this week, a couple in a PGI neighborhood heard a loud bang. Assuming it was their pool pump, they ran outside to see what had happened. (I wonder what their rascally pool pump has been up to lately for them to have assumed the worst of it.) When they got outside, they saw an eagle swimming in the canal behind their house. They immediately called Peace River Wildlife Center, while their neighbors called the Punta Gorda Police Department.
Luckily for me, I was on desk duty that day. (If you cannot read the sarcasm between those lines, you must be a new reader. And, so, welcome.) PRWC’s office staff member had to leave a few minutes early, so I had agreed to answer the phones for an hour. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, how about an eagle catching on fire?
I gathered up some rescue equipment and flew out the door as quickly as I could. By the time I got there, PGPD Officers Tony Pribble and Joe Farley were already on scene. With the assistance of passing boater Dave Dyke, we were able to corral the bird against the seawall and scoop him out of the canal. We bundled him into a waiting kennel and got him into treatment at PRWC.
FPL and PRWC representatives examined the area the next day and found the pole where the incident likely occurred to document it. The bird appears to have been burned while trying to eat a fish atop a power pole overlooking the canal. There was a large burned area of grass at the base of the pole, where the flaming eagle may have landed after causing a spark when he dropped his wet fish. He then proceeded to flounder into the canal, which likely helped keep him from getting more severe burns.
All of his feathers were singed—head, body, tail, and both wings. There was superficial damage to the skin on his wings and some sloughing of the skin on one of his feet. Otherwise, he appeared to be relatively healthy. There was no singing in the mucous membranes of his nares or throat, so his respiratory system seemed to have been unaffected by the heat and flames. His lungs sounded clear, so it would seem he did not take in any water during his brief swim—thanks to the quick actions of the neighbors who reported him and Officer Pribble who scooped him out of the canal.
Our Icarus unfortunately did have a brood patch on his belly. This is an area of skin on the lower abdomen where the bird has plucked his feathers out in order to pass body heat to his eggs or hatchling chicks. Bald eagle nesting season in southwest Florida is from October to February, so this adult male and his mate could be preparing their nest, laying and sitting on eggs, or even rearing hatchlings already. “Papa” will be out of commission for quite some time while his feathers molt to new, functional ones. Hopefully mom will be able to fend for herself and the new family for a while.
Since birds do not molt all their feathers at the same time, Icarus could be in rehab for an extended period of time. It can take up to three years for a bald eagle to replace every feather on his body. Time will tell if Icarus will be able to return to the wild, but at this time we are cautiously optimistic. While he cannot be on display to the public during his rehab, we will provide periodic updates at the Center, on our web site, and on our Facebook page.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM