New Update on Current Situation: January 2013

We sincerely thank you for your interest in the Eagles4kids nest cam and most recently in our beautiful female eagle Lucy. We understand some viewers have not followed her story from the beginning of her injury. In the spirit of everyone having the opportunity to have a full understanding, let me recap Lucy’s situation. Because there is great interest in Lucy and her injury, this explanation will be lengthy. Many people have expressed interest in specifics on Lucy’s case. We want viewers to understand her situation and have answers to questions that have been on their mind.

In late August after rearing two healthy eaglets, Lucy and Larry left the nest area which is normal behavior for adult Bald Eagles. Adults leave the nest area with their youngsters, teaching them to hunt and learn the fine points of being an eagle after fledgling.
Lucy re-appeared at the nest in mid-November. At that time, it was obvious she had suffered, and survived a horrific injury to both legs and feet. By the time she returned to the nest in November, Lucy’s injuries had “healed”. While we cannot be certain, our educated guess is Lucy suffered two broken legs and nerve damage caused by compression to her legs/feet/toes. By the time she returned to the nest in November the toes on her right food had a dark and shriveled appearance, which is suggestive of nerve and tissue death. The toes/talons of her right foot healed in a semi-functional position. Due to the degree of healing, we judge the injury occurred months before possibly as early as late August or September. Late last week Lucy’s rt. Hallux (back toe) fell away. Yesterday, the remainder of the dead rt., including the toes fell away. Although it may appear shocking, it is not painful. Dead tissue and the nerves involved have no pain. We expected and anticipated this happening. It is the normal end result of tissue following loss of circulation.

We do not know for certain what caused Lucy’s injury. As wildlife professionals we can offer educated guesses. The short list is as follows:
1. She was most likely caught in a jaw or body trap meant for a mammal such as a coyote, fox or other fur bearing animal. Traps of this nature are legal and used in the fur industry. Bald eagles and other raptors are more frequently trapped accidentally in such traps in the fall and winter season. A trap would explain her serious injury to both legs/feet in a single event, as well as the loss of circulation.
2. She may have had contact with an electrical line or faulty contact. Electrical shock could also explain the injury both in terms of fractures as well as tissue death, which Lucy exhibits. If you follow the Decorah eagles, you are well aware of the serious problems electricity can have.
3. She may have had fishing line or some other type of line wrapped tightly around her legs/feet. Monofilament fishing line is perfect for fishing as it is nearly invisible and almost impossible to break. Sadly, when wildlife becomes entangled in it, and that is often, they are unable to break it or remove it from their bodies.

All of these scenarios are possible causes for Lucy’s injury. Notice all are human caused, as are 98% of injuries to wildlife that come into wildlife rehabilitation centers in this country.

Raptors, including eagles have a strong pair bond. Frequently injured adults are cared for by their mates. It would have been impossible for Lucy to survive with what were likely two broken legs/feet without help from her mate to bring her food and protect her from predators. When they reappeared, this pair of Bald Eagles, Lucy and Larry, had been through and survived a great deal. Lucy returned to the nest full of vigor, flying strongly, vocalizing and interacting with her mate Larry. She showed skill and tenacity adapting to her disability. The entire team was very surprised to first, see such difficult injuries healed, and second how well she had adapted to an injury. This type of situation has never been recorded previous to this incident with Lucy. She is teaching biologists, viewers and the children at Eagles4kids a great deal about how wild birds/eagles cope with disability.

Lucy has and will always have a disability. Her disability is a fact. It will not go away. By the time she returned to her nest, she had healed completely, no medical intervention would have made a difference in the further or more complete recovery of her legs/feet. Raptor experts including veterinarians were called to consult on Lucy. An important consensus of opinion was Lucy was not in pain. The tissue was dead tissue and therefore had no nerves ending. Lucy’s behavior confirmed she was not in pain. Lucy adapted to her disability. Her behavior was absolutely normal. Had there been no cam on the nest, we would not have known Lucy has been injured.

Early on in in this process an effort to trap Lucy began. While Lucy was adapting well, with her in hand, we hoped to learn what caused her traumatic injury as well as find a captive placement for her. An experienced raptor trapper, the finest in the mid-west, was called. Lucy did not respond to the trap site. For weeks she ignored traps that other eagles would have found tempting. Trapping an eagle that does not want to be caught is difficult if not impossible. It is possible; even likely, Lucy had been trapped before. She may recognize the set- up and appeared determined to avoid the sets. Raptor biologists use the term “trap trained” for a situation when a bird has had previous with traps and does not respond to them.

Last week another effort to trap Lucy was initiated. A territorial dispute with another female eagle at Lucy’s nest was cause for concern to eagle experts consulting on her case. Of interest, our confident Lucy was the aggressor in this conflict. In addition severe cold temperatures may have placed additional challenges on Lucy’s ability to feed. Once again however, Lucy ignored the trap site and foiled our best efforts.

Lucy is a strong spirited bald eagle. She has proved herself capable and has adapted better to her disability than anyone thought possible. She is amazing and is teaching wildlife professionals, cam viewers and the children involved in the classrooms, a great deal on a daily basis about how wildlife adapt to injury and even disability. We are all in awe of her pluck and strength of character.

Please understand that we too were shocked when we first saw Lucy’s disability. Very quickly we began to see Lucy as a miracle on wings. The question became how is she adapting? How does she make this seem easy when we are all stressed and worried about her? Teachers live on this site and observe her constantly. Food is being supplied to aid in her ability to feed in event she needs it. However, lacking any workable solutions, we must allow her and Larry to take the lead. They are bald eagles after all and certainly the best to evaluate their own situation.

We understand observing individuals with disabilities may be difficult for some. We wish things were as they were last spring. We wish we had two healthy Bald eagles going into breeding season, but we do not. We still have our Lucy and Larry, the eagles that gave us great pleasure last spring and summer with their nest of healthy eaglets. We watched them interact as a pair and become parents. It seems to us the least we can do is respect their current situation and allow them to remain a pair as long as they can or have the desire to do so. They have earned our respect and understanding. They continue to be a pair and are nonchalant about her disability. We do not know what the future holds for them. We know that any wild animal with a disability in general has a shorter life span than those without disability. Please understand this is new territory for all of us including this brave and remarkable pair of Bald Eagles. Lucy is not being ignored. She is not suffering undo pain and while she is sometimes frustrated with her disability which is to be expected as she continues to recover, cope and learn her new capabilities. While it may be hard for some to watch, she is getting along well thus far. She and Larry seem to be unaware of the concerns we have for them.

If you find watching our site uncomfortable, please tune us out during this time. We will not give up on Lucy while she continues to try to maintain her life as normal as possible. If the time comes when she is unable to thrive, we will bring her into care. She is being observed not only daily but constantly. We know where she sleeps, roosts, eats and even who she chatters with during the day. Lucy is not alone in the world as some assumed. Lucy has earned every second of her life. She has overcome so much, with the help of her mate Larry. They did this together. We respect her enough to allow her to have the opportunity to live her life and learn from her. We hope you understand.

We wish Lucy and Larry were both intact and able bodied. That is not the case nor the cards they were dealt. We are committed to Lucy. We will not “remove” Lucy from her nest to opt for more comfortable viewing for those that reject her disfigured legs and disability. In the natural world there are no mistakes. A pair would not remain together if there were no hope for one of them. Larry is standing beside Lucy. We will follow his lead.

Thank you for your continued support,

Marge Gibson, and Eagles4kids