Bald Eagle Soars to Freedom on July 4th

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(Einstein the Eagle just before his release; Credit for images: Curators of the University of Missouri)

“Einstein,” an adult bald eagle, is now soaring over America after his release July 4th from the University of Missouri’s Raptor Rehabilitation Project, where the once-ailing bird underwent treatment.

The bald eagle is the national bird of the U.S., serving as an important symbol for the country’s strength, wisdom, and freedom. It is even front and center on the seal of the President of the United States.

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Einstein may be oblivious to all of the Independence Day pomp and circumstance, but his caretakers recognize how important it is to see healthy eagles flying free, particularly on this important holiday.

“When I realized that his release could be around July 4, I knew I had to do it,” Elizabeth Groth, president of the Raptor Rehabilitation Project, told Discovery News before Monday’s event. “He is ready to go and I thought it would be cool to try to get the public involved a bit for this release. It’s not every day that a member of the public gets to see an eagle like this and on our nation’s birthday, I thought it would be fitting.”

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Groth, who is also a student at the university (class of 2013), explained that Einstein was brought to her and her colleagues by a Missouri Department of Conservation agent in April. He was in terrible shape, due to lead poisoning.

“This is usually a cumulative process over the life of the eagle,” she said, adding that people often think such birds are shot, but that’s not always true. “They eat fish that have eaten lead sinkers or have been exposed to lead, and eventually the lead builds up in the eagle’s body to the point where they start showing neurologic signs.”

In this case, the signs included disorientation, listlessness, inability to stand, uncoordinated movements and, perhaps most disturbing of all, he was also discharging a foul-smelling liquid from his mouth and nose. Groth and her team knew that this was consistent with a condition known as gastrointestinal stasis, which “involves food rotting in the bird’s digestive tract rather than being digested completely.”

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The bird, later named after German physicist Albert Einstein, required “a lot of supportive nutritional care when he got to us,” Groth said. “He was very thin and couldn’t handle solid food, so he was on basically a liquid carnivore diet for about the first week. After that first week, he started to act more normal and was able to stand on his own again. He also started showing the defensive and aggressive behavior that we tend to expect from an eagle.”

Einstein was discharged from the hospital on May 18. Since then, he has been has been recuperating and rebuilding his flight muscles in the Raptor Rehabilitation Project’s flight cage at the College of Veterinary Medicine. He has been flying well. Blood and other tests determined he was ready for release, leaving behind four other birds that are still recovering. Nine other birds are more permanent fixtures, since they cannot go back into the wild.

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“I’m always excited to be able to release a bird, but eagles are a bit special,” Groth said. “Although we do get them through our project every year, they aren’t that common and they don’t always make it. Losing a bald eagle is tough, as they are such beautiful birds and they are a great symbol. I have no doubt that this particular eagle will do just fine out in the wild again.”

In the following video shot last year, you can see footage of Groth releasing another bald eagle, named “Eagle Rare.” Watch carefully, as ER wastes no time in stretching out his wings and taking flight.