2020 Patient of the Year

Find out who warranted consideration as the 2020 Patient of the Year!

When looking back at the 1,260+ patients admitted during the unforgettable year of 2020, we had some animals soar to the top of the list for consideration. We thought about a quick and spunky long-tailed weasel patient who survived a suspected poisoning. We considered our rare baby beaver and young Pacific fisher, but both are long term patients so they were disqualified. We briefly considered a small American goldfinch whose band told us he had traveled up and down the West Coast before injuring his wing in a mouse trap. We also thought about a barn owl who had a run in with barb wire, and while he thoroughly hated the staff assigned to his care, he just didn’t seem interested in healing. In the end, we settled on the remarkable story of a Golden Eagle who survived not one, but two, potentially life threatening mishaps…

We must rewind to the beginning of 2020… pre COVID. It was before the lockdowns, stay at home orders, social distancing and mask wearing when our 2020 Patient of the Year arrived at Wildlife Images.

Patient in ICU after exam

The back story…

Oregon State Police Fish & Wildlife Division Trooper Ryan Gosse pulled in on Thursday, January 30 with the bird. According to his report drivers from Mountain View Window & Door were traveling down Crater Lake Avenue near Vilas when they heard a thud coming from the box truck behind their cab. Having seen the eagle just before hearing the thud, they immediately looked in the engine compartment when they reached their destination. The drivers were shocked to see the full grown golden eagle wedged in such a precarious position. Wide eyed and bleeding from the mouth, the bird was scared but wedged so tightly into the small space that he couldn’t get out, and removing him without help would be potentially dangerous to her and the men. They called Trooper Gosse to help remove the bird safely. Trooper Gosse fanangled the eagle out by carefully folding and holding both wings while another person guided the engine hoses and lines out of the eagles talons. Golden eagles are incredibly strong. While their beaks are sharp and can do serious damage, it’s their talons to truly fear. A golden eagle can exert hundreds of pounds of pressure per square inch (up to 800 psi in some studies). To put it in perspective, the average man tops out at roughly 121 psi. The strength of a golden eagle’s grip is strong enough to easily crush a human forearm, let alone, slice through it with razor sharp talons.

 

Because of the birds size three animal care team members helped get him out of the crate and worked with him on her examination. Animal Care manager and clinic lead Jen Osburn-Eliot noted in the intake exam that the patient had no apparent wing injuries, was at a healthy weight, and showed no obvious signs of wing damage or head trauma. The only visible injury was a small tear where the skin attaches to the beak. That was assessed and cleaned by one of Wildlife Images’ veterinarian. An x-ray was also performed to rule out any fractures from the impact. When the exam was finished the eagle was placed in a large ICU unit for overnight observation.

We thought it was a minor miracle…

Here we had the largest native bird in our clinic which had, essentially, flown into a semi truck and somehow survived with a simple tear near the beak! After 5 days of rest and good food we were set to release the bird near Roxy Ann in Medford. We had contacted Wildlife Images’ members to be part of this special release and made plans for a local film crew to be there to capture the moment he returned to the wild!

Final exam revealed hidden injury…

Just before transfering an animal for release our team does one last exam. During this time we check animals over for any issues that may have developed, gone unseen, or not met our high standards for release. During this exam a injury was found on the eagle’s feet. It was immediately clear the injury needed treatment. During the initial exam no signs were noted on the birds talons and feet except dirty with oil, likely from its time in the engine compartment of the truck it hit. The pads were cleaned and the bird was moved quickly to an outdoor enclosure that safely allowed the bird to perch on appropriate surfaces. A day later the bird was flight tested. The patient did wonderfully. At this time, Animal Care team members were up close to the bird for almost an hour and again didn’t see any signs that would indicate an injury of this magnitude. Over the weekend, the eagle was fed but, as to industry standards, there was no human involvement, so as to limit exposure and imprinting.  By the time staff preformed the final exam the injury and surfaced through the bird’s tough skin.  Clinic staff cleaned the wounds and applied a soothing ointment. The bird also received an antibiotic. Wildlife Images’ veterinarian, Dr. Lane confirmed the clinic staff’s suspicions, this patient suffered electrocution burns – likely while trapped in the engine compartment of the truck.

Treatment Plan…

The patient did a complete 180 degree turn in the wrong direction. From being “uninjured” and releasable to being so wounded that we weren’t sure the bird would survive. The burns had destroyed much of the tissue on the pads of the bird’s feet. Quickly, a week-long stay turned into a 4 month long treatment plan. Several times a week, staff members had to catch and rebandage his feet with medicated ointment to heal the tissue and regrow the skin. This process would take an hour or more and was stressful on the staff and the patient. (SEE VIDEO HERE) Golden eagles are strong and defensive, and any animal becomes more dangerous and unpredictable when in pain or under stress. Under the careful eye of our clinic manager and veterinarian, staff took every precaution to keep the patient as calm as possible. One of the key ways this was achieved was with a falconer’s hood. These hoods comfortably cover the eyes of the bird but allow easy breathing. For many birds, if they can not see something it essentially does not exist, thus stress, fear, and the possibility of injury is greatly reduced.  

We slowly saw improvement every time the bandages were unwrapped. Tissue and skin injuries can take a long time to heal especially when they are on a high contact area such as a birds feet. What used to be every other day treatment became once a week treatment. Toward the end of his care, staff was able to remove the bandages and allow the golden eagle to work on perching and grip strength. Finally, more than 4 months after he arrived, amid a global pandemic, the largest bird of prey in Oregon, soared back into the skies over the Rogue Valley. This unforgettable patient who survived two potentially life threatening mishaps has earned the top spot as 2020 Patient of the Year. 

Wildlife Images is incredibly grateful to the vigilant employees of Mountain View Window & Door for putting their day on hold to get this beautiful girl some help. We are also incredibly and continually grateful to Oregon State Police Fish & Wildlife Division for their dedication to wildlife and for helping teach people how to safely and peacefully coexist with wild animals.