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Minnesota neighbors rescue injured eagle, release it back into the wild

The eagle turned out to have two sprains in one of its wings. Dr. Debbie Eskedahl, founder of Wild and Free, said it’s difficult to say what exactly caused the injury, but it could have been an event like flying into a power line or something similar.

A sequence of photos showing a man throwing an eagle into the air.
A sequence of photos shows Jay Sikkink tossing a rehabilitated eagle into the air during a wildlife release by Wild and Free Rehabilitation Center on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, northwest of Garrison. Sikkink was one of the people who originally captured and brought the bird to the rehabilitation facility.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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GARRISON, Minn. — Thanks to some “neighborhood ingenuity,” a previously injured eagle is now back in its natural habitat.

With the help of Garrison Animal Hospital staff, Jay Sikkink released an eagle back into the wild Saturday, Oct. 8, in a field northwest of Garrison, Minnesota, after about six weeks of rehabilitation.

“It was awesome,” he said of having the bird in his hands.

Sikkink’s neighbor, Laird Draves, found the female bird in late August just outside his home on Ripple Lake, south of Aitkin.

“I was working at my kitchen table on the computer, and I heard some rustling in the leaves off of the deck, so I went outside and I saw an eagle sitting there, which I thought was a little bit odd, but I had to get back on a conference call, so I went back to work, and a couple hours later, he was still out there,” Draves said after the release Saturday.

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When he stepped out on his deck, Draves said the eagle sort of glided down the hill but didn’t appear able to fly.

He called Department of Natural Resources officials, who weren’t in town at the time but said oftentimes eagles that eat too much get grounded for a while, so Draves was instructed to give it a couple more hours to digest its food.

“So we gave it a couple hours, and it was still there,” Draves said.

That’s when he asked Sikkink for help in the form of welding gloves to capture the bird and learned others in the area had seen the eagle near the lakeshore for the past couple of days. So they decided to call Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Garrison.

Securing the bird after that is where the ingenuity came in.

“Jay brought the welding gloves, I brought the muskie net, and then some of the other neighbors served to sort of corral because he could still run. He was good at running,” Draves said. “So we were able to sort of corral him down to the lakeshore where he couldn’t get out on the water, and then I ran in and scooped him up with the net. And then Jay had the gloves.”

The bird managed to get a nip in at Sikkink but didn’t break through the welding gloves.

The team of neighbors flipped the eagle over in the net to keep it from escaping as they loaded it into a truck. The whole process of catching it and securing it in the truck took between 45 minutes and an hour.

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While Wild and Free was not staffed at the time, the group was instructed to leave the bird in one of the after hours pens designed for such occasions. Because it was a hot day, they used army surplus blankets to build shade for the eagle.

“We made do with what we had, and fortunately, it was good enough,” Draves said.

The eagle turned out to have two sprains in one of its wings. Dr. Debbie Eskedahl, founder of Wild and Free, said it’s difficult to say what exactly caused the injury, but it could have been an event like flying into a power line or something similar. But thanks to Wild and Free’s new flight pen, the bird was able to undergo rehabilitation.

“It’s really nice that we just finished building a 100-foot long flight pen a year ago for these guys with a lot of funding from the public,” Eskedahl said. “And that makes her rehab so much easier because then she can fly the whole hundred feet and gain her strength again.”

And Draves is glad Wild and Free was able to help.

“It’s super fortunate that we had a facility like Wild and Free so close because otherwise if it was going down to the Raptor Center or something in the Twin Cities, I don’t know if a lot of people would go through that much effort to drive all the way down to the Cities, whereas having something like this in central Minnesota is a real jewel, and it gives us an opportunity to more practically rehab wildlife and stuff,” Draves said.

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