The bald eagle cocked its head, looking down and away, then back at the children ogling its shimmering feathers Saturday at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center. The kids and their parents, visiting for Save the Eagles Day, were getting a rare glimpse behind the scenes at Bird TLC.
Some were as wide-eyed as the eagle, a female named Petra on display with three other birds that live here at the bird rehabilitation clinic. The nonprofit nurses hundreds of injured birds back to health every year and is run entirely on private and corporate donations. More than 120 people attended Saturday's event, the center said.
Hal, a male bald eagle, stretched its wings in the corner of a back room. Denali, a male golden eagle, made quiet cooing noises in another room, which was full of people. Holding court in the front office was Kodi, a northwestern crow, who took cash donations and dropped them in a bucket in exchange for worms.
"They're pretty cool," said Hope Strohmeyer, who turns 10 today "Because, like, instead of just letting them die because of a damaged wing, they can teach us about it and save them."
Such was the case for Petra, who was found injured in Cordova in 1996 when she was just 8 months old, said Lisa Pajot, the volunteer handler whose gloved arm served as a perch for the now-13-pound eagle.
"She was found in a leg-hold trap," Pajot said. "Her left shoulder joint is damaged. So she can't move it or fly."
Unable to return to the wild, Petra is now an ambassador of sorts, visiting school classrooms and appearing at public events 40 to 50 times a year, Pajot said. The bird can be stubborn but she's generally calm and inquisitive, Pajot said.
Petra's situation is not unique. The vast majority of bird injuries are caused by humans, either directly or indirectly, said Heather Merewood, Bird TLC's executive director. Merewood said the wounds happen in a variety of ways. Some birds, including many songbirds, crash into windows. Larger birds get hit by cars. Predatory birds like eagles, falcons, hawks and owls are sometimes caught in baited traps or get shot.
People often ask: Why not let nature take its course, Merewood said.
"I feel, since we are causing the damage to these birds, we have a responsibility to help them out," she said.
The center's two paid staff members and roughly 80 volunteers help 600 to 800 birds a year, Merewood said. About 50 to 60 are injured eagles. If they're able to recover medically in the clinic, the eagles and other wounded birds of prey sometimes move on to "mouse university," where they learn to hunt again in a large enclosure, Merewood said.
Those birds, the ones that have a good chance of returning to nature, are often released in the spring and typically do not get named, Merewood said.
"The rehab birds get numbers," she said. "These birds are wild and we always want to keep focused on that. If we said, 'Oh, this is Fluffy!' we're kind of putting them into that pet category. Which they're not."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE