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One Lucky Bird

By Staff | Mar 15, 2012

On Sunday, Aaron Manz (pictured) and Chris Frerichs of Emmetsburg found an American Bald Eagle suffering from lead poisoning on the riverbank near Whitetail Flats, south of Emmetsburg. The men captured the bird and transported it to SOAR, an avian rehabilation organization, for medical attention. The eagle’s progress can be followed online. Turn to Page 14 of today’s Democrat for more photos. --submitted photo

As James Taylor sings in the song “You’ve Got A Friend:”

“When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand”

A helping hand was extended to an American Bald Eagle thanks to a chance encounter with a pair of Emmetsburg men this week.

Hunters Aaron Manz and Chris Frerichs were searching for turkey tracks near Whitetail Flats along the Des Moines River, south of Emmetsburg on Sunday, March 11.

“We saw this bald eagle just sitting on the riverbank, not moving much,” shared Frerichs. “We started taking pictures and as we got closer it didn’t move away.”

Manz added, “We see bald eagles all the time sitting in the trees and flying around hunting.”

In fact, Frerichs and Manz spotted another bald eagle in the vicinity and assumed that bird was the downed eagle’s mate.

“I got down on my hands and knees and started to slowly crawl towards it,” Manz explained. “I kept my head down and avoided eye contact.”

Manz said the bird didn’t resist his approach. The hunters soon realized that the large bird of prey wasn’t going anywhere.

“He didn’t try and peck me or flap his wings or anything,” said Manz. “He was very docile.”

“We knew there was something wrong with it,” Frerichs added.

The men also observed that the bird was experiencing seizures.

While one stayed with the eagle, the other retrieved a large dog kennel, and using a blanket, gently ushered the eagle inside. Phone calls were made and SOAR, a non-profit raptor rehabilitation, education, and research organization, was contacted. SOAR (Saving Our Avian Resources), located in Dedham, Iowa, was happy to take the ill bird.

On Sunday evening, after attempting to administer water to the eagle through the aid of a turkey baster, Frerichs and Manz drove their patient to Rockwell City to meet Kay, the SOAR representative, halfway.

The Emmetsburg men learned that their bald eagle was a young adult four-year old male. Typically, male and female mature bald eagles weigh between 10 and 14 pounds on average. Fred weighed just 7.5 pounds. Manz and Frerichs nicknamed him “Fred.”

Since the men had witnessed the eagle seizing, lead poisoning was suspected and chelation therapy was started immediately.

Fred was likely poisoned from consuming the carcass of a deer or other animal downed by lead pellets. Ingesting just two small lead pellets could cause death in an eagle like Fred.

According to the SOAR web site, waterfowl hunters in Iowa must use non-toxic/non-lead shot. Several state and county areas also require non-toxic/non-lead shot for all hunting. However, pheasant, turkey, rabbit, and deer hunters are still allowed to use lead ammunition.

Updates on Fred’s progress can be found on the SOAR web site at www.soarraptors.org under the link “Patients” found on the left side of the page.

According to the March 13 update, the latest news is positive: Fred hadn’t had a seizure in 12 hours.

If Fred continues to recover, he could be expected to be released in a month, perhaps longer, depending on the severity of his condition. Once healthy, he will be banded and could be released from the SOAR facility in Dedham.

Frerichs learned from the SOAR representative that once released, a bald eagle will often return to its home area, sometimes traveling 600 miles in a day.

Everyone is hopeful that Fred will rejoin his mate and will soon be seen soaring across the skies south of town.