Erin the Bald Eagle

Erin the Bald Eagle

Erin the eagle was welcomed home to McCall last week with a reception befitting a celebrity. The female bald eagle, which was found injured along the North Fork of the Payette River in late September, was released by Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials in front of a crowd of well-wishers and photographers eager to capture her return to the wild.

Erin the Bald Eagle

Erin the eagle

The eagle was discovered on Sept. 27 when two men, Jerry Rodebaugh of McCall and Kevin Capps of San Jose, Calif., were hunting along the river west of Maki Lane about five miles south of McCall. The eagle was sitting on the ground, too weak to fly away. The eagle was captured the next morning with the help of Rodebaugh, Linda Holden of Snowdon Wildlife Refuge, and others; and Jeff Rohlman of the McCall F&G office drove her to Washington State University’s veterinary hospital in Pullman, Wash.

While at WSU, the eagle was given the name of Erin as a tracking name. Last week, Erin was a new eagle when Rohlman picked her up in Pullman. “When they got her out of the cage, she was feisty and combative compared to being docile and on her last legs when I took her up there,” he said. Rohlman credits Erin’s recovery to the veterinary school’s long experience caring for birds of prey. Hospital veterinarians never found out why Erin was ailing. The original diagnosis was lead poisoning, but blood tests were normal. She had a bald patch on her breast where she might have struck some object, her doctor, Nickol Finch, said in October.

Cars, pickups and SUVs lined Maki Lane south of McCall, and a small crowd of about 15 people clustered at the end of the dirt road awaiting the arrival of the F&G pickup carrying Erin. Under a gloomy sky, they chatted cheerfully though the weather was icy and a light snow was falling. Erin had been scheduled to arrive around 1 p.m. on Dec. 4, but ice and fog in the canyon south of Riggins slowed her return. A little after 2 p.m., headlights approached from the east, and the crowd moved to greet the white pickup. Erin made the 180-mile trip in a dog carrier in the back of the truck. Her release was quick and unceremonious as Rohlman placed the carrier on a stump overlooking the North Fork’s floodplain and opened the door. Erin hesitated only an instant before launching herself into space. The site was not far from where the eagle had been found two months before.

Rodebaugh, who lives on Maki Lane, was on hand to watch the eagle’s release. He stood transfixed as did others when Erin winged her way to a nearby tree. “It was awesome,” he said. “It made me really happy, and I felt good about getting it into the right hands in the beginning, that I did something to save the nation’s bird.” Erin paused a few minutes on that tree surveying the countryside. She had a mate before her hospital stay, but he was nowhere in sight. Bald eagles usually mate for life, but they are also “practical birds,” Holden said. If one of the pair dies or does not return, they will choose another mate. Erin seemed to have other plans as she viewed the home she had left two months before. Their nest lay to the northwest, but Erin’s gaze was fixed to the west. When she finally flew away to the oohs and ahs of the crowd, she headed south toward Lake Cascade.

This story appeared in The Star-News in McCall, ID on Dec. 12, 2002 and is used with permission. Photo by Lucia V. Knudson, The Star-News

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