A juvenile eagle is released at Frisky's Wildlife Sanctuary on September 19, 2019.
The female bald eagle was “young and dumb,” in the words of a vet. She gobbled up her meal too quickly and a bone of some sort — perhaps a rat or opossum skull, or perhaps a bone from a deer — became lodged in her intestinal track, making it impossible for her to digest the food she’d already eaten, or to take new nourishment.
When Colleen Layton-Robbins and Mike Lathroum found her in a Catonsville yard July 28, the eagle was starving to death. She looked like a wilting flower.
Her feathers were dirty and bedraggled, and she was too weak to lift her neck. The homeowner in whose yard the eagle had landed reported that she’d been sitting on the ground virtually motionless for several hours.
So the homeowner phoned in an S.O.S. to Frisky’s Wildlife & Primate Sanctuary, a unique wildlife rehabilitation facility in Woodstock.
The nonprofit sanctuary makes space for any wild animal in need of medical care. Thousands of monkeys, opossums, rabbits, fawns, owls, hawks, turtles — and once, a black bear cub and another time, a llama — have passed through the sanctuary since Layton-Robbins established Frisky’s in 1970.
Once the animals have regained their strength, they are released into the wild. (The exception is monkeys, who are not native to North America. They live out the rest of their lives at the sanctuary.)
“I sometimes think there is a big sign over our house that we can’t see but everyone else can,” Layton-Robbins said.
“The sign says, ‘Suckers live here.’ ”
The stricken eagle was clearly terrified when she was approached that July afternoon by Lathroum, a retired National Resources Police corporal and frequent Frisky’s volunteer. The eagle was unable to fly more than about 50 feet or higher than 3 feet off the ground. She was infested with lice.
“If you think of what a Thanksgiving turkey would look like without the breast meat, that was this girl,” Lathroum said. “I could feel her sternum. She had been living off her muscle tissue and she was on her way out.”
Lathroum did what he had to do. He threw a towel over the bird and drove her to the Chadwell Animal Hospital in Abingdon. Five days later, after the eagle’s blockage had been removed (thanks to the avian equivalent of a laxative) and her vital signs had stabilized, she was transferred to Frisky’s, where she spent the next seven weeks regaining her strength.
Keith Gold, who owns the veterinary clinic, estimated that this eagle was still a juvenile. Because she had not as yet developed a bald eagle’s white head and tail feathers, he estimated that she was not yet 3 years old.
A typical adult bald eagle weighs 8 to 12 pounds, Gold said; this girl barely tipped the scale at 5½ pounds.
“We treated her for shock and stabilized her,” Gold said. “We tested her blood and took X-rays, which showed the blockage. But she had no fractures. Though she was weak and dehydrated, she was basically healthy.”
After she was released to Frisky’s, the eagle rapidly made progress. One day, she perched on a tree branch for the first time. Then she began taking short little flights. By mid-August, Layton-Robbins said, she could fly from one end of her 50-foot enclosure to the other. By mid-September, she was a fit and energetic 8 pounds.
“It was so rewarding to see her look up at the sun every day and try to fly higher,” Layton-Robbins said. “There’s a line of trees alongside our property. Every day, I’d see her looking at those treetops and thinking that’s where she belonged.”
So on Sunday morning, Layton-Robbins and a helper, Julia Dagnello, maneuvered the eagle into a cage and met Lathroum at a wooded area outside Catonsville and near the Patapsco River, about 4 miles from where the eagle was captured.
No longer a listless creature, the eagle vigorously expressed her displeasure at being transported in the back of the Frisky’s van. With each blow of the eagle’s wings — BAM! BAM! — the carrier wobbled just a little.
“This girl is ready to rock and roll,” Layton-Robbins said. “She’s been cooped up in that cage for more than an hour and she’s getting frustrated.”
Layton-Robbins stepped back and pulled the cage door open. There was a flash of chocolate-brown and white feathers — and in about the time it took for a human observer to take a single breath, the eagle was perched far, far away across the valley and in the branch of a tree, imperiously surveying her new domain.
“That’s the way it usually goes,” Layton-Robbins said.
"You take care of them for weeks and months, and the release is over in a moment. They don’t look back over their shoulder and say, ‘Hey, thanks for all the fish.’