MUKILTEO — Golfers and bird lovers had reason to celebrate an eagle on a Mukilteo course earlier this week.
This one was not the two-under-par-on-a-single-hole variety. It was an actual bird, fresh out of rehab, returning to the wild.
A male bald eagle was released Thursday at the Harbour Pointe Golf Club after receiving treatment at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood.
The raptor was found injured in a forested residential yard near the golf course, and it was transported to the PAWS facility where over two weeks wildlife specialists nursed it back to health.
As soon as its cage was opened, the eagle bolted into the air without hesitation, circled over the misty course just once and disappeared from sight into a cluster of nearby trees. This came as a surprise to PAWS naturalist and release specialist Jeff Brown, because reintroduced birds usually take a few minutes to prepare for flight after their cages are opened.
The cause of the injury remains officially undetermined. However, the PAWS team strongly suspects a fight with another male eagle. This is because an injured eagle was found just 100 feet away from the rescue site, and the injuries of both appeared to be talon-inflicted.
“Although bald eagles typically only display this amount of aggression and territorial behavior during the breeding and nesting season, they can be aggressive any time of year — especially if it’s food-related,” Brown said. “It could be that there was a specific perch they both liked, especially if it was a foraging spot where they could see down on potential prey.”
Harbour Pointe was selected as the release location because its fairway provided a “runway” with enough room for the eagle to take flight and gain elevation before it returned to natural habitat.
When the eagle arrived at the rehabilitation facility, it underwent a standard physical examination and blood test. After a possible cause of injury was determined, the PAWS team attended to the wounds and tested the bird’s flight stamina in a large enclosure to ensure it was strong enough to return to the wild.
Bald eagles are one of the most common birds — particularly among birds of prey — that undergo rehabilitation at PAWS. In 2020 alone, 28 bald eagles were admitted, setting a record in the 30 years the nonprofit has been doing animal rescue work.
Brown said that, despite the record, there is little overall concern among the wildlife community about the species’ health.
“Their population has been steadily increasing since DDT was banned,” he said. “There are more and more nests in the Puget Sound area. There are more and more bald eagles.”
Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, is a synthetic pesticide that was nationally banned in 1972 because of adverse environmental effects. When bald eagles ingested DDT-contaminated fish, they were poisoned by the chemical compound and were no longer able to produce egg shells strong enough to healthfully incubate chicks.
When asked what people should do if they encounter an injured wild animal, Brown said the first step should always be to call PAWS or another wildlife rehabilitation center for instruction. People often incorrectly transport injured wildlife or attempt to rescue animals that are completely healthy.
“Sometimes, for example, there are baby birds that look like adults, but they’re not flying very well yet, so people think they’re injured,” Brown said. “But they’re not injured, they’re just young birds.”
PAWS is a Washington-based nonprofit that rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, shelters and adopts homeless cats and dogs, and invests in community education about animal-related issues. The organization has worked to rehabilitate more than 260 animal species. Species include harbor seals, American black bears and barred owls.
“Wildlife rehabilitation is something people only think about when they find an injured animal — it’s not really a part of the conservation field that people frequently consider,” Brown said. “One thing that makes working in wildlife rehabilitation unique is that it’s so positive. You get to see how much our community cares about the wildlife we share our spaces, cities and farmlands with.”