The bald eagle known as One Wing, the Exxon Valdez oil spill survivor that became a mascot and symbol of hope for the Bird Treatment and Learning Center, has died. One Wing, who lived nearly 20 years longer than anyone would have imagined, was found dead in his mew at the center.
"Everyone is still shook up about it," said Bird TLC founder Jim Scott, whose connection with One Wing has been practically legendary.
One Wing's story is known by many in Alaska and beyond, through oil spill coverage, nature programs about the center, as well as Joan Harris' intricately illustrated tribute to him and other TLC birds, "One Wing's Gift," named after the poem Scott wrote in his honor.
In 1989, poisoned by crude oil, the eagle fought rescuers so hard he tore up his wing beating it against the ground. He arrived at the center a wreck, and Scott had to amputate his wing. He didn't expect him to survive, and decided to use him as a living blood bank to save other oiled eagles.
"We took blood from him each day for several days, which you never do," Scott said. "But he kept getting stronger and stronger. And he won a place in all our hearts."
One Wing's death took many off guard, including Cindy Palmatier, the center's director of avian care.
"Yes, he was old, but he had been doing so well," she wrote in an e-mail. "Acting normal, eating, talking to everyone. In fact, he had just chewed me out on Friday for some infraction when I walked through the mew yard."
Palmatier had been keeping a close eye on One Wing since his mate died last year. That one they called The Old Witch, because "she was really ornery," Scott said.
Todd Palmatier, who does volunteer veterinary care for the center, performed an autopsy. He found a tumor on One Wing's heart that erupted.
"He died real quickly," he said.
The staff and volunteers at Bird TLC are now seeking permission from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to allow them to send One Wing off in style. Normally, they'd be required to turn the body over. They'd like an exception so they can cremate One Wing and spread his ashes to the wind.
"So he'll be able to fly free again," Scott said.
Find Debra McKinney online at adn.com/contact/dmckinney or call 257-4465.