Reporter: David Tate
Bedford Co., VA - Biologists on the Blue Ridge Parkway released a Golden Eagle back into the wild Wednesday after the bird spent the past month recovering from a serious injury to its foot.
The eagle is a rare visitor to this part of Virginia. Experts estimate fewer than $2,000 of these birds call the east coast home.
The eagle has fully recovered from his injury and will now unwittingly help scientists better understand how these birds of prey operate.
The bird, animal patient 11-007, was found in a Craig County coyote trap in January.
"What a golden eagle thinks is a nice deer carcass to go down and feed on ends up being a buried trap. They use their feet a lot to sort of poke around and figure out where the meat is and when they use their feet they obviously get caught in the trap," Dr. Dave McRuer with The Wildlife Center of Virginia said.
For biologist Dave Kramer the opportunity to get his hands on one of these golden eagles is a golden opportunity to understand them better, in an effort to better help protect them.
"If we want to understand the population and we want to be able to protect the species we really have to know where they are at and where they are going," Kramer with the Virginia Tech Conservation Management Institute said.
The male bird, roughly five-years old, had to get one toe amputated, but is otherwise doing well. Now he's being fitted with a tracking device that will help biologists better understand why Quebec is his summer home and the Virginias, his winter home.
"The eastern population is just not well understood," Kramer said.
But first measurements of his beak length, talon length, and wingspan are taken. Then a quick lesson on golden eagles for the dozens of curious onlookers who showed up to watch. And then, the moment of truth: 11-007 was off and he didn't look back.
"Without that information we really have no way of implementing a policy to protect them during migration or even during while they're on the wintering grounds," Kramer said.
The transmitter that was attached to the bird with a Teflon strap weighs about four ounces and relays all sorts of information to a central computer every 15 minutes, provided there's adequate cell coverage wherever the bird may be. That device will last about two years.