Baltimore Zoo tends injured bald eagle found on farm

June 07, 1991|By Joel McCord

The bald eagle was mad. Hunkered down in a corner of a stable at the Baltimore Zoo's animal hospital, the bird glared at anyone who had the temerity to peer through the bars.

It wasn't bad enough that her left wing was broken, or that she has been cooped up in the zoo hospital for a month, or that her feathers had been clipped. But someone had dragged the national symbol out and posed her for pictures a few minutes ago. And she was mad.

"They don't like to be handled," said Dr. Michael Cranfield, the zoo's chief veterinarian.

The eagle, which had been banded as an eaglet in New Jersey in 1986, was discovered in the shrubbery in a Calvert County farmer's front yard early in May, unable to fly. Stewart Smith, the farmer, and two of his brothers captured her and turned her over to a manager for the Maryland Wildlife Service, who brought the bird to the zoo for treatment.

"We have a permit for the rehabilitation of endangered species," said Jane Coyle, zoo spokeswoman.

Although they are making a comeback throughout the East and on the West Coast, bald eagles remain on the list of endangered species, Dr. Cranfield said.

Now, Mr. Smith's eagle is on the mend, and zoo officials are allowing some visitors to take a peek. But it could be a year before her feathers grow back and they can set her free, Dr. Cranfield said. Meanwhile, she'll stay in the zoo hospital, nursing her wounds.

It was early one Sunday morning when Mr. Smith's brother, Horace, came over to the house in Dunkirk to return a saw he had borrowed. "He asked me if I had a bald eagle and I said no, and he said, 'There's one in your front yard,' " Mr. Smith recounted.

Sure enough, the bird was in the shrubbery, hopping about.

"It was the first time I'd seen a live eagle in my life," he said. "But it couldn't fly none at all."

Mr. Smith borrowed a large cotton net from another brother, Steve, who lives next door. The three of them threw the cotton over the eagle and tied her up, somehow avoiding injury from the bird's powerful talons.

When the eagle arrived at the zoo, Dr. Cranfield bandaged her wing and began feeding her antibiotics and fluids for three days before operating. The bird had a compound fracture in her left wing, he said, pointing out the injuries on an X-ray.

She probably flew into a power line with her wings outstretched, which would explain the clean break, he added. And Mr. Smith apparently found her very shortly afterward because the break was not complicated by other injuries she would have incurred trying to flap her wings.

The X-ray also showed a shotgun pellet on the left side of the eagle's chest. Dr. Cranfield said the hospital treats six or seven injured bald eagles every year and "90 percent of them have been shot."

"That's a mentality I just don't understand," he complained.

Dr. Cranfield set the bird's brittle bone with a plastic pin, then held it together with a newly developed bone cement he borrowed from a friend in Pittsburgh. The cement is "not breakthrough medicine," he said. But it does make life easier for veterinarians trying to piece broken animals back together.

But the huge feathers on the wing were too heavy for the broken bone, so Dr. Cranfield trimmed them to ease the weight. If he had plucked the feathers, they would have grown back faster, he said. But he also would have irritated the skin and risked an infection near his incision.

Now, he has to wait until the next time the eagle molts, which could be a year from now, before he can free her. Until then, anyone who fears the wrath of the national symbol should stay clear.

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