Lucy continues to prove predictions of her demise were greatly exaggerated. The future for the female bald eagle was considered bleak after an injury late last year caused the toes on her right foot to atrophy and fall off.
Yet Lucy not only survived the winter, she has remained with mate Larry at the nest near Beaches Corner in Trempealeau County.
And Saturday, to the delight of the Blair-Taylor Elementary School class that has a Web camera set up to monitor the pair, Lucy laid her first egg of the season.
If she has a second egg in her, as was the case last year, that should arrive sometime today, said teacher Darrin Briggs, whose second-grade class took over the Eagles4Kids project at Blair-Taylor.
“She’s pretty much proved everybody wrong,” Briggs said.
Experts had good reason to doubt Lucy’s ability to function without the powerful, taloned foot, so crucial for an eagle to being able to grasp and kill prey.
Lucy benefited from having roadkill carcasses to feed on during the winter, plus the male’s willingness to bring her prey.
She also learned to perch on the one foot, at first having to extend her wings for balance but now able to easily sit like other eagles.
Even more improbable, she was seen Sunday in a field near the nest, seeming to seize and subdue a small animal, then feed on it.
“What this eagle is teaching us is lots of things are possible that we didn’t think were possible,” said Eileen Hanson, director of public relations at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn.
Laying an egg is no guarantee it will hatch or the pair will be able to raise the chicks to fledgling status. That’s not easy even for eagles that don’t have such a handicap.
The fact Larry stuck by Lucy is a good sign, Hanson said. While eagles often form long bonds, they don’t “mate for life” and will find another if the current partner doesn’t seem a strong prospect for raising young, Hanson said.
“It’s a vote of confidence from Larry that this is going to be a go,” Hanson said.
“It’s hard to have odds laid against her. She’s exceeded all the expectations so far.”
Famed bald eagle’s prospects ‘dire’ after foot injury
A bald eagle that Blair-Taylor Elementary students — and the world —watched this year via a nestside web camera has a badly injured foot that experts say could put her life in jeopardy.
Lucy, as the class named her, recently returned to the nest near Beaches Corner in Trempealeau County, remaining long enough for the camera and streaming video to capture some clear views of her right foot.
“What we have seen does not look good,” according to a news release posted on Eagles4Kids project website, www.eagles4kids.com.
Virtually all of the toes on the foot appear gray, atrophied and dead.
It leaves Lucy with only one functioning foot, which for a bird of prey can be “devastating,” the project group advised.
Veterinarian Laura Johnson of Prairie du Chien, a specialist in birds of prey who has treated numerous eagles, agreed the loss could mean “life and death.” Though not a part of Lucy’s case, she confirmed the bird’s ability to hunt, to seize and carry prey, even to perch will be impaired.
“That’s how they make their living, with their feet,” Johnson said.
Earlier efforts had been made to capture Lucy for a closer look at the foot. But the experts — which include staff at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn., and rehabilitators with the Raptor Education Group Inc. — now have concluded the injury is beyond treatment and exclude her from a life in captivity.
Instead, they will leave Lucy in the wild and only intervene if she ends up stranded on the ground or appears in severe distress.
For now, Lucy shows no signs of pain or real discomfort, though her other foot is swollen, perhaps from having to support her full weight. She continues to fly, eat and preen, according to the Eagles4Kids website.
“Somehow, she is managing despite these serious impairments and adapting to her disability,” the release states.
The pair drew online viewers from across the U.S. and globally earlier this year as they successfully raised two young eagles. It was a particularly sweet outcome after a 2011 nesting attempt ended in failure when the first female disappeared.
The students have not been shielded so far from the realities of life for the eagles, from watching them bring and dismember prey at the nest to the likelihood the 2011 female died.
That won’t change as the situation with Lucy plays out and more harsh conditions set in.
“We have no desire to create a false hope,” they’ve been told. “Lucy may not survive the winter.”
But mate Larry remains with her and has long provided her with food, said Blair-Taylor teacher Darrin Briggs, who has been with the project all three years and whose second-grade class this fall took over monitoring the pair.
Though rare, there have been other examples of eagles seen surviving in the wild with only one foot, Briggs said.
And Lucy so far has proven resilient.
“She’s still doing what eagles do,” Briggs said. “It is not impossible for her to make it.”