I held the bald eagle face out, close in to my abdomen. I gripped her upper legs firmly with thick leather gloves; she was heavy – and warm. I could see the lovely silver-gray eyes, fierce and completely focused on the raptor rehabilitator who stood in front of us. The rehabber gently took the eagle’s left wing in her gloved hands and stretched it out, almost to full extension.
Several months ago this eagle had been blown into a power line during a winter storm near the Oregon coast. She had broken her wrist bone. Since we are the only federally licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility for many miles, our rehabber had spent a wet afternoon in a sloshing canoe rescuing this unwilling bird.
Now that the bones had healed and the wraps were off, we were doing avian physical therapy: gently stretching the muscles and tendons so that the wing could regain full function. She would need complete strength of muscle and bone to carry her back to her territory along the Nehalem River.
During one slow wing stretch, the eagle swiveled her head and stared fully into my eyes. This must be how a small rabbit feels before the moment of fatal impact, I thought. She then turned back, her attention again on her wing. But the burn of her look lingered. Not every day does wild beauty look me in the eye.
The rehab center is open to all native wildlife. Predators and prey are all welcome. Tiny orphan fawns arrive each spring, tiptoeing on new hooves. They look a lot like preteen girls in their first heels. Rehabbing peregrine falcons in the flight cage kick up dust with their wing beats. They course the length of the barn silently as we leave their cut up bloody dinner like an offering.
I believe that learning to pay attention and respect to the wild things that surround us, those that we may not be aware of, can make us better humans.
This awareness brings home the fact that there are others who belong in this world too, those who are making an effort to coexist with us as we shrink their living quarters to smaller and smaller bits. Look up – now – and there’s a good chance you’ll see birds going about their business, trying to make a living just like us. Knowing them better can bring the gift of the simple satisfaction of gained information, or patience, or – if you really get hooked like me, the satisfaction of giving a helping hand. I think the individual determines the exact gift, but it’s there for the taking.
What I find is that the birds can fly away with any troubles that I bring to the job. I want to spend more and more time in their midst. I know I’m a better person for it.
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