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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — When Iris Speechley first saw it on Sept. 26, the bald eagle was dazed, covered in mud and unable to get off the ground. She saw it again Tuesday, hurtling into the sky after undergoing rehabilitation with the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

And she thinks she’ll see the eagle again.

Speechley is convinced the male eagle — tagged bald eagle No. 17-2469 by the Wildlife Center of Virginia — has a family near where she found it in her backyard in Poquoson.

The Wildlife Center believes the eagle got into a fight with another eagle, causing damage to its feet, legs, wings and eyes. Ed Clark, a co-founder of the wildlife center, said there’s not much nesting space in Tidewater, creating competition. The eagle may have also been hit by a vehicle.

When she found it, Speechley thought the eagle couldn’t fly because it was caked in mud, so much so that Speechley’s husband thought he was a vulture. A nor’easter had just come through, making the ground along Messick Road extremely muddy.

The eagle was upset, of course, spreading its wings whenever anyone approached. Speechley said it looked like it was stomping, too, as it tried to get away.

But it couldn’t take off, so it stomped and hopped into the road and into several backyards. Residents came out to watch and did traffic control until police arrived. Speechley couldn’t get ahold of any animal agencies to help, so she called her friend Jean Eddy, a semi-retired veterinarian.

Eddy had frequently worked with exotic birds and owls and had some familiarity with eagles from veterinary school. She’s clear that if someone comes across a hurt eagle, he or she shouldn’t do what she did, unless they’re experienced.

Eddy and her husband mucked after the eagle through people’s yards until the eagle got to a chicken wire fence. The eagle had no problem hopping and climbing over wood fences, but couldn’t get past the chicken wire.

Eddy was able to get a blanket over it and immediately covered its head and took control of the talons, which she’d seen wreak havoc on a colleague’s arm once. Her husband, holding the talons, carried the eagle in their car and dropped it off at the Peninsula Emergency Veterinary Clinic in York County.

Eddy called herself a sucker, saying she couldn’t resist helping and didn’t want to leave the bird out while it couldn’t fly — soaked and muddy, it was at risk of hypothermia and a potential target of a dog.

Throughout the commotion, Speechley noticed other eagles perched nearby and circling overhead. She was told it’s not usual for eagles to behave like that, but she thinks all the birds were family.

“I wanted him to be released in Poquoson,” she said.

Instead, it was released at York River State Park in front of a crowd, including Speechley and Eddy.

Clark said Poquoson is about 11 air miles from the park, so the eagle could be back home before anyone even got on the interstate. The center has admitted 50 bald eagles for rehabilitation this year, most had lead poisoning from eating animals killed by hunters and left behind.

Most of the poisoned eagles don’t survive, so Clark said he was glad to be releasing a healthy bird.

Donning a sturdy glove and sleeve, Clark showed the eagle to the crowd before releasing it back into the wild.

The eagle flew straight ahead to applause and “oohs” from the crowd. It looked strong, catching air and gliding into a U-turn, never stopping to perch in a tree before it was out of sight.


Information from: Daily Press,