Second cousins Richard Kiss and Joe Kiss made a vow that a sick bald eagle they
rescued when fully recovered would be released back into Jerusalem Township.
Rescued near Cedar Point Road in late November, the male eagle successfully recovered at a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation center, Back to the Wild, in Castalia. Last Sunday, it was released in the township at Maumee Bay State Park.
“I was adamant about staying in touch with them so we didn’t miss the opportunity. I insisted they bring it here. Absolutely,” Joe Kiss, a township trustee and business owner, said.
There to see the eagle fly off into the sunset, so to speak, were the two cousins, Joe Kiss’s wife and children, Back to the Wild founders Bill and Mona Rutger, one of their staff members, and their families.
When the cousins rescued the bird, its health and behavior was so poor chances of survival were not clear. When it was released, those present said they hardly recognized the bird.
“It wasn’t even like the same bird. It was totally 100 percent opposite from when we found it — alert, strong, healthy looking,” Joe said. “It kept trying to fly away. You can see it had a lot more power than the last time we had it. It was an incredible experience really. It flew away perfectly, and she (Mona Rutger) was very optimistic that it was going to be successful in surviving.”
In reality, the eagle did not fly into the sunset.
“It took off from the guy’s hands and flew due north and landed in the first big tree just north of where we let it go, and she said that was normal because they want to re-acclimate themselves and get their bearings,” Kiss said. “It stayed there for over an hour.
“It was totally impressive. It was awesome — awesome is about the best word, really. I can tell you that, either having the bird die or having the bird live and fly away, I’d take the second of the two. It was great.”
Mona said there was a good chance the eagle recognized its home territory, but whether it stays remains to be seen.
“Chances are, though, that its mate would have re-mated by now. They don’t wait once a week or two has gone by, so they actually re-mate depending on the time of year. So then he would be driven from that territory by the pair holding it, but he’ll stay in that neck of the woods,” Mona said.
She said the eagle could get involved in a fight with another male bald eagle over territory or a mate.
Richard, a ranger who lives at Pearson Metropark, said he could tell when he first saw the bird Sunday that it had fully recovered.
“When it came out of the pen, you could tell that it was completely different looking. It was alert, strong, and it wanted to get the heck out of there. It didn’t look anything like it did when we found it and captured it,” Richard said.
“It was intimidating, kind of because I didn’t want to get too close to it because it looked like it would bite me. She (Mona) said that sometimes when they are ready to go they will beat themselves up in the pen and they will get bloody on their forewings because they want to get the heck out of there. But this one didn’t. This one was pretty cool.”
After giving the eagle intravenous feedings, Back to the Wild flushed out poisons that got into the bird’s system.
“It took a few weeks, and by then its flight muscle deteriorates so you have to rebuild the flight muscle,” Mona said.
Back to the Wild has L-shaped cages 100 feet long for the bird to get its strength back.
“After it came out of its initial care cage, it goes into the flight cage. After spending several weeks in there, it rebuilds muscle and we watch it to make sure all of its behavior is correct,” Mona said.
She said Joe and Richard rescued the bird just in time. Another male bald eagle that arrived at the center was not so lucky.
“In fact, we got another eagle in just a few days later from Huron County with the all the exact same symptoms, and that one died very quickly, within 24 hours,” Mona said. “He was just not found quick enough.
“So it was very strange how they showed the same systems, the liver levels were the same, and the abnormalities were the same. You know, we’ll never know if they fed him a carcass of something. The only way is they have to ingest that and they have to get it from shot, or they could eat an animal that had lead shot in it. This eagle did not have lead poisoning.”
The type of poison that got into the eagle’s system varies, including possibly a pesticide or rat poison. Mona explained that you could tell the bird was poisoned because the enzyme levels were high in the liver.
“It wasn’t lead poisoning because that would have been worse,” Richard said. “She said it could have even been a mouse or a rat that somebody had poisoned with d-CON or something. Then when it ate the meat it got tainted from that.”
Mona and Richard both said events like this are why they do what they do.
“That is what you go into this business for is to help people and the wildlife, and it was real rewarding,” Richard said.
“We’re just thrilled,” Mona said. “It’s the epitome of what we are striving for. We actually open our arms and let those animals return to the wild and nothing can compare to it. It’s a privilege to be able to release them.
“We just started small in our backyard basically, and it just took off. We kept getting more and more animals which forced us to build bigger and better facilities. But there are federal and state regulations as far as what type of facilities you are required to use in order to be allowed to rehabilitate these animals. You have to be licensed.”
Mona said organizations like hers depend almost entirely on donations for funding.
“The grants that we have been able to recover have only been to cover things like handicapped walkways for people. We haven’t been allowed to use them towards the feed and care of the animals,” Mona said. “So the grant money is earmarked for projects just for certain things. It’s almost impossible to get funding for the feed and care.”