EASTERN NECK ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE -- An American bald eagle found wounded in a farmer's field near Easton two months ago was returned to the wild by its rescuers yesterday.
The eagle, a 9-year-old male, didn't hesitate when the cover was lifted from his carrier. He lurched once as he flew into the wind, then soared high and sure toward a stand of trees bordering the cornfield where he was released.
"Come on back and say goodbye . . . give us a flyby!" said an exuberant Pat Wolters, a volunteer with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Inc., one of several groups that donated time and expertise during the bird's two-month recovery from a broken left wing.
"For a rehabilitator, that's the ultimate right there," said Lucretia Krantz, a wildlife rehabilitator with the Talbot County Humane Society, as she watched the eagle circle high above the trees. "That's the primary purpose -- to release them back into the wild. Two months of good hard work. . . ."
The bird's recovery and release required coordination between several agencies and groups. A farmer called the Talbot County Humane Society April 10 to report an eagle grounded in one of his fields.
Director Kelly Allen and another society member went to the field and captured the bird. Under federal regulations governing eagles and other endangered species, the society was required to turn the bird over within six hours to either the Baltimore Zoo or Tri-State, a private, nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation organization that provides care for about 3,000 birds every year.
The bird was given emergency care by a local veterinarian and then taken to the zoo, Ms. Allen said yesterday. She was among the eight people who drove to the remote refuge in Kent County to watch the bird's release.
On May 5, the eagle was transferred to the Tri-State facility in Delaware because it needed conditioning and exercise before it could be returned to the wild, said Dr. Erica Miller, a veterinarian with Tri-State.
The healing took about three weeks, said Dr. Sallie Welte, another veterinarian at Tri-State. After a week in a small cage with low perches, which allowed the bird to begin using the wing, it was moved into a 100-foot flight cage for more conditioning and exercise.
"We wanted to make sure he was eating well on his own," said Dr. Welte. 'He's a very good flier. He's a small bird, a very light bird." The eagle weighed about 7.3 pounds yesterday, she said.
The eagle joins two others -- a nesting pair -- at the refuge, said manager Martin Kaehny. The 2,286-acre refuge, owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was established in 1962 for migratory waterfowl -- ducks, geese and swans -- and to offer habitat to endangered species, he said.
"He should do well here," said Dr. Miller, who accompanied Ms. Wolters on the two-hour trip from Newark, Del., for the release. "There's everything he needs."
The eagle had been banded near Grasonville nine years ago by " the state Department of Natural Resources while it was still in the nest, said Glenn Therres, the state's bald eagle biologist.
"We don't have a good, hard total but ballpark-wise, we probably have 750 to 1,000 eagles in Maryland," he said. "They're continuing to increase significantly in the state."
American bald eagles are still classified as endangered in all but a handful of states, Mr. Therres said, although their status is under review to be changed to "threatened," one step above endangered.
Last year, there were over 4,000 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states, Mr. Therres said. At the bird's low point in 1963, there were 417 pairs.