An injured bald eagle from the Freeland area was released back into the wild Thursday.
And after months of recovery at a wildlife center on San Juan Island, the bird couldn’t have made it more clear that it was ready to go home. Secured in a plastic crate covered by a blanket, a handler had barely unlatched the gate when the bird burst out with a clank and took flight over a grassy field.
“Yeah, she kicked the door open,” laughed Vicki Taylor, a rehabilitator at Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
The non-profit organization takes in injured and orphaned wildlife, providing them with medical care until they are healthy enough to be released back into their original habitat.
At least 4 years old and believed to be a female due to its size and weight — about 12 pounds — the eagle was rescued in February by Freeland resident Melissa Russell on her property on East Harbor Road.
“It was hopping around [on the ground] and it just didn’t seem right,” Russell said.
She called a neighbor, Terry Ryan, and they contacted veterinarian Dr. Dave Parent. He and an assistant were there within the hour and collected the wounded eagle, though not without some challenge.
“This one wasn’t real happy about being picked up,” Parent said.
The bird had been scalped, lost at least one primary feather from a wing and suffered injuries to one of its feet. It’s believed they were sustained during a fight with another bald eagle.
Once back at Parent’s Freeland clinic, he provided some initial treatment, such as an exam and X-rays, and contacted Wolf Hollow. A short time later, the bird was relocated to Wolf Hollow and spent the next few months recovering from its injuries.
The eagle, which Russell has since named “Whidbey,” was fed a regular diet of venison, rats, herring and salmon. Taylor said they attempted to feed it other fare as well, such as quail and cod, but the bird wouldn’t touch it.
“She was very picky,” Taylor said.
Whidbey was the third bald eagle rescued from South Whidbey this year alone. Another was found by Keith and Annette Jacobs last month at their home above Double Bluff. It was transported to Wolf Hollow as well and is recovering.
Russell, Ryan and Parent were among a small crowd that assembled to watch Whidbey’s release . It was also documented by a Whidbey TV crew, and can be viewed on local channel 1/501.