Bald eagle under center's wing

Program will allow participants close look at creature Saturday

July 07, 2000|By Kristen Dorsey | Kristen Dorsey,SUN STAFF

Curious birdwatchers and photographers can get a close look at Captain, a bald eagle that has been living at the Bear Branch Nature Center since January.

The 10-pound eagle was acquired from Wildfowl Trust of North America in Grasonville, which asked the nature center in Carroll County to provide Captain with a home.

Saturday will be the first opportunity for photographers to train their cameras on the eagle.

Chris Snow, conservation director for Wildfowl Trust, said the trust had kept Captain for almost two years but the eagle needed a larger living space than the 35-by-15-foot cage it was in.

"The nature center had a larger cage and could provide the eagle with a better home," Snow said.

His white head and cocoa-colored body immediately distinguish Captain from other birds.

With a height of about 3 feet and a wingspan of 6 feet, Captain is a fully grown male eagle. Immature eagles are about the same size as adults but do not reach adult status until acquiring a white head, usually in their fifth year.

Captain is unable to survive in the wild because he is blind in his right eye. A couple years ago, a rabbit bone in the bird's beak caused a severe infection. When the Salisbury Zoo retrieved Captain from the wild, the rabbit bone was still in his beak and the infection had spread to his eye, causing permanent damage.

Sherry Fisher, a naturalist at the nature center, said Captain would not live long in the wild.

"In order for any bird to be a true hunter, it needs to have good eyesight in both eyes and good wings," she said. An eagle's eyesight is four to eight times sharper than that of a human.

Unlike other eagles that must search for their meals, which generally consist of fish or dead animals, food is brought to Captain's large, outdoor cage.

Since everything is brought to Captain, it is not necessary for him to live in an outdoor environment. Captain's cage is large enough to allow him to fly short distances.

"If a bird is flying it's because it has to establish a territory or it's hunting," Fisher said. "Otherwise, it doesn't need to fly."

The nature center tries to keep Captain's cage as close to a natural environment as possible. It has a tree inside, along with a couple stumps and the leftover branches of a tree.

The cage has several levels where Captain can perch. Though he does not use his wings as much as other eagles, Captain is a strong animal, Fisher said.

Fisher said Captain isn't as aggressive as most eagles. Eagles have been known to fly at the chest of their trainers with a speed capable of causing severe injuries.

"Most trainers will wear a bulletproof vest when working with them. I don't feel the need to wear one around him, but I never take my eyes off him," Fisher said.

The nature center, near Westminster, will have two formal programs about Captain in the next few months.

Registration for photographers is required, and they will be allowed to go inside the cage with Captain.

Eagles, exclusive to North America and the U.S. national bird, were considered a federal endangered species from 1967 until the mid-1990s, mainly because of the effects of the pesticide DDT.

In Maryland, eagles are concentrated near the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Liberty Reservoir is a good place to spot eagles in Carroll.

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