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Winter resident aids in the rescue of bald eagle

By Staff | Apr 5, 2010

What began as a routine bike ride for seasonal Pine Island resident Harry Rischer and his daughter turned into a once-in-a-lifetime experience late last month.
Early on a Sunday morning in March, Rischer and and his daughter, Christa, who was visiting her parents from Indiana, were bicycling in the Eagle Lake housing development in St. James City. Rischer was anxious to show his daughter a young bald eagle he had been observing for the last four months, when what could have become a tragedy transpired before their eyes.
“We watched as the immature bald eagle made his ill-fated first flight,” Rischer said. “It was a very windy and overcast morning when the eaglet took off from the nest. Unexperienced in flight, he was caught up in a gust and crashed into the thick palmetto underbrush and began struggling hopelessly to free himself.
“I knew the eaglet was in serious trouble as there was a thunderstorm approaching and should the bird be trapped overnight, it could become of victim of the weather or to the coyotes that live in the area,” he continued. “I was certain this bird, a symbol of our nation, would probably not survive the night if it remained trapped, and I had to do something.”
While Rischer kept an eye on the now stressed eagle, his daughter began making phone calls in hope of locating help. Several calls later put Christa in touch with Eric Sundstad, a CROW volunteer on Pine Island, who quickly came to the rescue.
“With Eric’s help, after several tense minutes, we were able to free the eaglet,” said Rischer. “Once extracted from of the thicket, the young eaglet was not only stressed but was becoming angry. Eric said we needed to calm the eagle to prevent the possibility of injury, so I removed my sock, cut the toe off and slid it over the eagle’s head. This quieted him down instantly and we were able to safely place him in a box for transportation to the CROW facility on Sanibel for evaluation and possible rehabilitation.”
Rischer is a retired American history teacher which has given him a deep respect for eagles and what they symbolize.
“I have always had a great appreciation for the wide variety of wild creatures that make our country unique,” Rischer said. “The opportunity to play a role in the rescue of the young bald eagle that is the symbol of our great nation is perhaps the most rewarding adventure of my life.”
Christa also shared her thoughts on the experience.
“It was a rewarding experience I got to share with my dad and an awesome feeling to know we saved the young eagle from possible death,” Christa said. “I don’t think he would have made it through the night.”
After being safely transported to CROW, the young eagle became Case #821 under the watchful eye of clinic director, Dr. Amber McNamara, who found the eaglet to be in good shape considering the ordeal.
“The bird was in reasonable shape and the only injury was a small laceration just below the chin, however he or she was what I call somewhat dull and displayed symptoms of exhaustion,” said Dr. McNamara. “We treated the bird for stress and put him in a large cage to rest for the night. By the next morning he was very responsive and was moved to a larger cage and immediately took flight but didn’t eat. He then was moved to an even larger flight cage to be observed and he did very well so within a couple of days he was ready to go home.”
According to Dr. McNamara, the story ended happily when the eaglet was brought back to his home in St. James City to be reunited with his parents.
The Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife is a non-profit center who cares for orphaned and injured wildlife throughout Lee County and relies on donations to continue this invaluable service.
“After our encounter with the eaglet, my wife and I learned about all of the great things CROW does for wildlife and have since made a donation to help insure their doors remain open for as long as they are needed,” said Rischer. “I encourage everyone to donate to CROW, I don’t know what we or the young eagle would have done without them.”
To learn more about CROW or to make a donation, visit crowclinic.org or mail contributions directly to CROW, P.O. Box 150, 3883 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, FL 33957.