A golden eagle rescued by Cherry resident Nancy Cooper is released back into the wild by Arizona Game and Fish Eagle Education Rehabilitation Coordinator Jerry Ostwinkle Thursday January 10, 2013.
Jerry Ostwinkle, the eagle education rehabilitation coordinator with Arizona Game and Fish, releases a golden eagle back into the wild near Cherry on this past Thursday. The eagle was struck by a car and rescued by Nancy Cooper, who was on her way to pick up her kids from a school bus stop. See video of the eagle’s release at www.dCourier.com.
Photo courtesy Matt Hinshaw
A routine event turned into a memorable one for Nancy Cooper on Dec. 5, when she was driving down Cherry Creek Road to Highway 169 to pick up her two teenage sons from the school bus stop.
A woman in a small SUV with a vanity plate pulled out in front of her after doing a U-turn.
"All of a sudden, I see this big brown bird come up out of the ditch and - I'll never get this image out of my mind - she hits it and its wings went all the way across her windshield," Cooper related.
The majestic golden eagle then rolled off the side of the SUV, and the woman just drove away.
The eagle tried to fly off, but got only about eight feet in the air before falling on its back on the side of the road.
Cooper knew exactly why the eagle had been next to the road. She had noticed the freshly dead jackrabbit on the side of the road when she brought her kids down to the school bus stop that morning.
Cooper, well prepared for emergencies because of her rural lifestyle in Cherry, immediately took blankets out of her vehicle, carefully wrapped the eagle in them, and placed the eagle in her vehicle. After working years ago for a Mesa veterinarian who helped care for raptors, she knew it was important to cover the eagle's eyes to help calm him.
Cooper continued down the hill to pick up her kids. They then headed on to Prescott to the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, which helps care for injured and orphaned wild animals. The zookeepers took the eagle to Mile Hi Animal Hospital, where Dr. Brice Smith evaluated it and took X-rays. Seeing no broken bones or obvious injuries, the eagle was transferred to the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center in Phoenix the next day for rehabilitation.
The bird was treated for fungal disease, provided with plenty of rest, and reconditioned for flight by long-time volunteer Jerry Ostwinkle, Adobe's eagle education and rehabilitation coordinator who holds a rare government falconry permit to work with the federally protected golden eagle.
Cooper made sure to leave her contact information with Adobe so she could be there if the eagle ever got to fly free again.
Ostwinkle called her this past week with the great news that he and other volunteers would be driving up to Cherry Creek Road Thursday to release the golden eagle.
"I really wanted to be here," Cooper said Thursday after watching the eagle circle and then disappear over the mountains.
"You gave that bird a massive second chance," Ostwinkle told Cooper. Only about 8 years old, the eagle could live in the Cherry area for as many as 50 years, he said.
"This is his stomping ground," Ostwinkle added. "Everything in this area fears that thing."
Cooper brought her sons to witness the eagle shoot out of its cage and straight up into the sky.
"I thought that was amazing," her son Brandon said.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," her son Jacob added. "You don't get to see that every day."
Cooper's neighbors also joined the event, as did four other Adobe Mountain volunteers.
"It's rewarding," said Tammy Hines, president of the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center Auxiliary. "It's justification for what we do."
It's a worthy payoff for cleaning lots of cages, volunteer Lori Dean added.
"It's just a thrill," volunteer Phyllis Burkholder said.
Ostwinkle also brought along an Adobe Mountain ambassador, a golden eagle named Magnum. He flies with Ostwinkle but can't quite hunt on his own because of the loss of vision in one eye and a slight brain injury suffered when he was hit by a vehicle along Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff about nine years ago.
Ostwinkle's love of the golden eagle was obvious as the powerful raptor perched on his arm and displayed his awesome wingspan of 6.5 feet. His 3.5-inch-long talons can pierce skulls, Ostwinkle told the spellbound group.
"This is the most powerful predator we have in the state," Ostwinkle said of the continent's largest raptor. "Nothing will challenge this animal on the ground, not even a bear."
In the air, the golden eagle can fly up 20,000 feet into the jet stream and reach Mexico in a couple hours, Ostwinkle added.
But on Thursday, this eagle was focused on flying over his Cherry territory once again, possibly searching for the lifetime mate he left behind a month ago.