A golden eagle struck by a vehicle May 2 while eating a prairie dog on U.S. U.S. 160 on the west edge of Mancos is one lucky bird.
The 4-year-old eagle, recovering at Durango Animal Hospital, is expected to return to the air when his health allows, said Carole Withers, who has rehabilitated raptors for 20 years in Durango and for 20 years before that in Hawaii.
Veterinarian Chuck Hawman, who does wildlife surgery for free, repaired the eagle’s fractured lower jaw, which would prevent the raptor from eating.
The eagle was force-fed before surgery, but has not eaten since, Withers said. It has turned up its beak at whole rats left in the cage, so a rodent may be cut open to entice it, Withers said.
The eagle lived to soar again thanks to the help of many humans, starting with Scott Gregerson.
Gregerson, a Cortez painter, was eastbound on Highway 160, when the vehicle ahead of his flashed its hazard lights and pulled to the side. Gregerson followed suit.
“The vehicle that hit the eagle was long gone, but it was sitting there dazed with its road kill,” Gregerson said Thursday. “So the other driver and I blocked the road long enough for me to get a tarp from my truck and cover the eagle and move it to the side.”
Gregerson contacted Colorado Parks and Wildlife and made arrangements to transfer the eagle to wildlife officer Stephanie Schuler and colleague Steve McClung at Cherry Creek Road.
Now, Withers, one of the founders of Durango Wildlife Rehabilitation, will nurse the eagle in a “hospital room” in her home until it can be released.
If convalescence is lengthy, the eagle, named Scott after Gregerson, could spend a few days in an outdoor flight cage in the north valley before takeoff, Withers said.
Withers deals with raptors. Her partners, Tara Bodine and Pat Jackson, handle mammals and songbirds, respectively. In Colorado, she said, wildlife rehabilitation has to be carried out in conjunction with a licensed veterinarian.
Withers determines the approximate age of raptors by their color pattern of feathers and the color of their eyes, feet and cere, the membranous covering on the beak, all of which change as raptors age.
Hawman said he treated animals as a child, followed up during his teen years and then through veterinarian training. He has practiced in Durango since 1991.
“If an animal is found in Colorado, I’ve treated it,” Hawman said. “A moose is probably the only animal I haven’t treated.”
At this time of year, traumatized wildlife may arrive four or five times a day, he said.
“Not all of them make it, and some have to be put down,” Hawman said. “Our job isn’t to try to keep them around in whatever condition, but to return them to the wild.”