CHARLES CITY – Three months to the day after three young eaglets from Norfolk Botanical Garden were moved to The Wildlife Center of Virginia, they were released to the wild. However, one of the eagles will have to wait a bit longer for her freedom flight.
The three were removed from Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk after their mother was killed by a landing plane in April.
Just before they were released, one of the eagles was outfitted with a transmitter so researchers can track it for two years. However, that eagle (designated NX) did not gain enough altitude on two flight attempts and is being returned to the center for more preparation time.
"NX wasn't injured and she was flying well, but she just didn't gain enough altitude," said Stephen Living, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Living said the eagles may have been fatigued from the trip to Charles City from Waynesboro, Va., which was prolonged when a van driver reportedly took a wrong turn.
The decision to return NX to the center was made by scientists from DGIF and the Wildlife Center.
"It was a hot day and she was just hot and tired. We decided not to stress her any more today. We'll give her a chance to get used to the transmitter and try again later," said Living.
Living said the next attempt at release would within the next two weeks after the eagle is evaluated by veterinarians and biologists at the center.
NX was chosen to wear the harness because she tolerated handling better than the other eagles and because female eagles normally grow larger and stronger, according to Living.
Living said that the transition from an enclosure to the outdoors may have been disorienting to an eagle which has spent the last three months under a roof.
"These birds haven't had a whole lot of vertical in their world," said Living. He added that a lack of wind today may have also hindered the bird's ability to gain alititude.
Four of the five eagles released flew well but NX landed a short distance away. She was caught by Dr. Dave McRuer, a veterinarian at the wildlife center, and returned to crate to rest.
"She flew well, her wings looked good and her flight looked good, but she just got tired," said McRuer, who added that NX was handled more than the other birds as the transmitter was attached.
According to the DGIF, the cellular transmitter will provide data to track the eagle's movements.
More than 1,200 guests from 22 states and Ontario, Canada had RSVP'd to be at Berkeley Plantation for their release according to the wildlife center.
Two other eagles from the Hampton Roads area were also released Wednesday, making it the first time in the Center’s nearly 30-year history of treating wildlife that five eagles were released at the same event.
Those two arrived at the Center from Hampton and Williamsburg.
The Center staff cared for an eagle found in a field in Hampton on June 3. The emaciated bird was rescued by Lisa Barlow of Wildlife Response Inc. and then admitted to the Center on June 9.
On July 14, Godspeed Animal Care in Williamsburg cared for a young Bald Eagle found with its left wing tangled in a net at the King and Queen County landfill. It then moved to the Center, where vets gave it antibiotics for the minor abrasions.
Both eagles were moved to the large flight pen to gain strength before returning to the wild.
Wildlife officials say there are now more than 600 active Bald Eagle nests in the Commonwealth.