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Egg on their face?

  • BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Renshaw the Bald Eagle screams a warning at visitors to stay away from her eggs.
    BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Renshaw the Bald Eagle screams a warning at visitors to stay away from her eggs.
Published March 12. 2011 09:00AM

Monday, Feb. 28 dawned cold and wet. Carbon County Environmental Center Program Assistant Franklin Klock arrived at work just in time to say hello to neighbors Albert Sabatini and Keely Slifer, who were taking their regular morning stroll around the grounds. Sabatini and Slifer headed off on the board walk that leads past the wild bird enclosures, and Klock toward the main building.

But Slifer came up to him in the parking lot.

"I think there's something wrong with your Bald Eagle," she said. "Your Bald Eagle is lying on the ground, in the corner, screaming its head off and it looks like it's frozen into the ground."

Alarmed, Klock raced to the enclosure just as Chief Naturalist Susan Gallagher arrived.

"Come on! There's something with Renshaw!" he yelled to her. They arrived at the enclosure to see exactly what Slifer had described: Renshaw the eagle was flat on its belly on the ground, screaming.

"It wasn't a scream of pain. It was more of a scream of agitation," Klock said.

The lock on the enclosure was encased in ice. Klock was struggling to get the key in when he heard Gallagher shout "Get out! It laid an egg!"

"I couldn't get in there fast enough," Klock said. He was finally able to break through the ice on the lock, and flung the door open.

"As I threw the door open, she got up and attacked me, as if to say, 'there's no way you're coming near this'," he said. The confrontation startled and baffled Klock, who had worked with the bird every day for 10 years.

Until that morning, Environmental Center staff thought Renshaw, who came to the center as an immature bird in 2001, was male. Everything fit: the bird was small, and although it reached maturity at about five years, it had never laid an egg. Staff had named the bird General George Patton. In 2004, the eagle was renamed in honor of the late master falconer and center volunteer Frederick Renshaw Wallace, who had trained her for use in educational programs.

Stunned by the unexpected turn of events, Klock and Gallagher gave Renshaw her space - and time - before getting a closer look at the egg.

"Laying an egg puts a great deal of stress on a bird," Klock said.

On Monday, Klock found that Renshaw had laid a second egg. Renshaw had sat on the two eggs, protecting them throughout the snow-sleet-ice storm that hit the area Sunday night into Monday morning.

Because Renshaw has no access to male eagles, the eggs are not fertile and so will never hatch.

Renshaw isn't the first eagle at the center that turned out to be female instead of male as first thought.

"Miss Charles" also came to the center in 2001. A magnificent Golden Eagle, staff at the center had named the bird Charles Butler McVay, after the beleaguered Commanding officer of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis.

"Then, after learning more and more about eagles, and about measurements, we determined that there was no way it could be a boy, because she's way too big," Klock said.

"The Golden Eagle came from up on the northern tier (either Sullivan or Wyoming County). She had been shot, and had been on the ground for about two weeks. She was brought to us by two game commission officers. People had seen her on the ground for about two weeks, and were unable to catch her. But she just got weaker and weaker, so finally they were able to corral her, " Gallagher said.

That was on March 13, 2001.

"On April 10, we got a call about what someone thought was a Bald Eagle up on top of Broad Mountain, outside Nesquehoning," Gallagher said.

"By that time, stories of the Golden Eagle had made the papers, and so people were aware. We thought the whole county just had 'eagle-itis,' we thought there was no way (there could be another eagle). We had been working here for 10 years without seeing an eagle come through for rehabilitation. Now there were going to be two, within the space of a few weeks?" she said.

Figuring the bird was probably a vulture, Gallagher went up to see what she could do.

She got up to the area, and "sure enough, it was an immature Bald Eagle. Soaking wet, skinny as a rail, hopping around in the swamp, up on top of the Broad Mountain."

Gallagher caught the bird with the help of Nesquehoning police, who managed traffic. She brought the eagle, later named Renshaw, back to the center.

The bird appeared to have been hit by a car. One eye was injured, and it wouldn't fly it was "sort of flopping around in circles," Gallagher said. The eagle had an old injury to one foot that resulted in the loss of one of his talons.

Staff had hoped the bird could be rehabilitated and released. But the Bald Eagle never flew, and so has found a home at the center.

"She goes in circles, and one wing droops," Gallagher said. Center staff believe Renshaw may have suffered some brain damage, or nerve damage to her wing. "Whatever the problem is, we don't know. We just know she won't fly."

The center got a third eagle in October of 2001. That one, too, had been shot. It had a broken wing, which was repaired by Dr. Frank Bostick at St. Francis Animal Hospital, South Tamaqua. The center staff rehabilitated the eagle. "We did release that bird six months later," Gallagher said.

Klock led the rehabilitation efforts.

It's heartbreaking that Renshaw and Miss Charlie can't be living in the wild, as they were meant to be, hatching fertile eggs and raising their chicks, because they were hit by cars or shot.

"It's just really sad," Gallagher said.

Of Renshaw, Gallagher said "She's such a beautiful, beautiful bird. It's a shame she's (no longer) wild and part of the gene pool any more. But at least now she can be part of our education program."

There are more than 100 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles in the state, Klock said. There are no known nesting sites of Golden Eagles in Pennsylvania, Gallagher said. "They only migrate through."

Miss Charlie and Renshaw are not owned by the center, but are kept there with the permission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The eagles will continue to make their homes at the center. When they die, their remains must be sent to the National Bald and Golden Eagle Repository in Colorado.

Even molted feathers must be sent to the repository, Gallagher said. The feathers are then given to Native Americans to use for ceremonial or educational purposes.

Gallagher does not know whether the eggs must also be sent to the repository.

"For now, we're letting her have them, because if we take them, her body may produce more, and we don't want to add to her stress," Gallagher said.

Follow Renshaw and her eggs on Carbon County Environmental Education Center's Facebook page.

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