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article imageBaby golden eagle 'Phoenix' survives Utah wildfire

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jul 9, 2012 in Environment
Salt Lake City - A baby golden eagle survived a wildfire near Saratoga Springs, Utah. The survival of the baby eagle has been described as "miraculous." Wildlife rehabilitation officials have named him "Phoenix" after the mythical creature reborn from the ashes.
According to DaLyn Erickson, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden, "The trauma and the injury and the situation he is in -- to come out of it is amazing."
Wildlife rehabilitation workers say all the eaglet's feathers, including the feathers on its head, were charred. He also suffered burns to the feet and around his beak, but he suffered no injuries to his eyes, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.
According to CNN, Kent Keller, a volunteer who has helped the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources gather population information on the eagles for 34 years, placed a band on the baby bird on June 1. The Dump Fire erupted three weeks later, and burned more than 5,500 acres, CNN reports.
According to Keller, 56, an amateur ornithologist and resident of suburban Salt Lake City, he returned on June 28 to the nest built on the edge of a cliff on Lake Mountain, expecting to retrieve the band from a dead animal. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, he looked for the nest through a scope and saw only a black mark. He climbed through the scorched landscape to the nest only to document the loss of the nest and the eaglet. He found that the nest was gone and the nearby rocks blackened by the blaze.
According to the The Salt Lake Tribune, Keller said: "There was not a stick from the nest left — not on the ground or the cliff. I’ve seen nests burn before, but this is the first year I have seen one burn with young in it. They are usually long gone and flying when fire season starts."
Keller looked around and noticed legs and talons near a blackened juniper below the cliff. He looked and found the baby eagle still alive. The fall from the golden eagle's nest was about 25 feet. Keller speculated that the eaglet probably rolled another 100 feet from the base of the cliff.
Keller was amazed to find the bird alive. He said: "I thought there was no chance he would be alive. I was stunned when I saw him standing there. I thought maybe I could rebuild the nest a little bit, but I took a good look at him and realized that was not going to happen."
After Keller found the baby bird, he left him at the base of the cliff for several days because he had to obtain permission from authorities to take care of him. After he got permission from the authorities, he returned to the nest on Independence Day. He took the bird to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden on Wednesday. The staff called the bird "Phoenix" after the mythical creature that was reborn from the ashes.
Erickson, executive director of the center, said that at first she wasn't sure then that naming the eaglet "Phoenix" was the wise thing to do. She said: "I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. He kind of had that look like he may have given up."
The eagle was found dehydrated and weighing only about 5 pounds. Erickson told CNN: "He was lethargic and just obviously hurting. After we got him hydrated and medications, he perked up and that fire came back in him."
He was hydrated with a tube pushed down his throat. Fox News reports that Amber Hansen, a member of the center's board of directors and volunteer, said: "He looks good now. But we think if he had been there [at the nest site] another day, he probably would not have survived."
Erikson estimates that Phoenix is about 70 days old. Rehabilitators say they are limiting their contact with him so that he will not become too comfortable around humans.
According to the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service, golden eagles are protected. They usually feed on reptiles, small mammals and other birds. They may also scavenge on carrion.
Wildlife officials say it is too early to say whether Phoenix will be able to fly after his injuries. Rehabilitation will take at least a year an his feathers will not fully moult until mid-2013. Erickson said: "We are fairly confident, but there could be follicle damage we do not know about that would prevent feathers from coming in."
According to Erickson, "He is doing well and we are very positive about his outcome right now. (But) these types of things can turn at any moment." Erickson says that in the 12 years of her experience in wildlife rehabilitation, Phoenix's story is among cases she has seen that is "nothing short of a miracle."
CNN reports that the nonprofit center treats about 1,800 animals a year and accepts donations to support its activities.
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