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Bald eagle spreads her wings after weeks of rehabilitation at Abilene Zoo

It took a village to help an injured bald eagle get back to its natural habitat.

ABILENE, Texas — Bald eagles in West Texas are nothing short of being a rare sight. Bald eagle "Lady Bird", who was named by fans on the Abilene Zoo's Facebook page, was able to receive help to once again take flight.

Saturday, Dec. 11, Lady Bird was released back into the wild, after an effort by a "village" of experts dedicated to getting her back in the air.

This release was a big deal for everyone who was involved - the landowners who found her; the game warden who was called to the location where she was found; the rehabilitator who examined her and delivered her to the Abilene Zoo; the doctors who helped rehab Lady Bird back to health; and locals who simply enjoy seeing wild animals freed back into nature. 

Credit: Abilene Zoo

Lady Bird arrived at the Abilene Zoo with a broken right wing and a broken shoulder bone. She also had high levels of lead in her system, indicating she had been eating things with lead, such as fish.

“2021 has apparently been the year of the bald eagle for us! This year we broke our record of having two bald eagles brought in. Being able to see such a beautiful release today in this beautiful skyline is what makes my job so great,” Clay Carabajal, Abilene Zoo Supervisor of Conservation, said.

Everyone traveled back to Holt, near Rochelle, to see this release take place. As more people arrived, people were anxious to see if the bird would be healed enough to fly. 

In less than two months, Lady Bird was strong enough to be released in the location where she was initially found and enjoy her life as a healthy free bird again.

Her journey began weeks ago when Jeff Carl found the eagle on a private ranch in Holt. Carl said it was a bit of a struggle to capture her. 

"We saw it as we were driving. It couldn't get any lift so we decided to pull over and investigate. She had a stern look looking on her face as we approached her. The first five minutes of seeing her it didn't even feel real," Carl said. 

After the capture, Carl called the local game warden who then called a retired Brownwood rehabilitator, Vicki Gamble, who has specialized in rehabilitating wild animals for more than 60 years. 

Credit: Abilene Zoo

Once she assessed the problems with the Lady Bird, Gamble drove her to the Abilene Zoo the morning of Oct. 30 for further examination. 

The zoo has an exercise flight where Lady Bird could exercise her wings to practice flying in West Texas weather conditions and also make her body stronger. 

Credit: Abilene Zoo

After weeks of rehabilitation, Lady Bird, the Abilene Zoo crew and Carl returned to the ranch where he first found the bird to help set her free.   

“Seeing the national symbol of the United States fly off was just beautiful. What a way to end 2021. Let‘s see if we can bring to effect wildlife and conservation around the world,” Carabajal said.

Sadly, sometimes when animals are found, they don’t get a happy ending like Lady Bird's. Gamble said anyone who stumbles upon a wild animal should contact authorities as soon as possible so that the animal can receive proper care. 

To learn more about rescue animals and how to donate to the cause, visit the Abilene Zoo or Texas Parks and Wildlife websites. 

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