URBANA — An injured golden eagle is being treated at the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic after the bird was rescued northwest of Sadorus last week.
Dr. Julia Whittington, clinical associate professor at the Wildlife Medical Clinic, said it is quite rare for the clinic to treat a golden eagle.
"They are a western U.S. bird," Whittington said. "Bald eagles are the only species you typically see in this part of the country. There is a healthy population of bald eagles in Vermilion County now."
Whittington said golden eagles typically migrate from the western U.S. to Mexico. She said it is possible the bird got lost and was blown off course to Illinois.
"It's the first one I've seen here since I arrived in 1993," Whittington said. "It was so unexpected that I said to the students that it was probably just a juvenile bald eagle when it arrived. Then I went down and looked at it, and it was indeed a golden eagle."
Whittington said golden eagles have a bronze, brown head with a golden sheen, and they are larger than bald eagles.
An area resident who spotted the one-year-old golden eagle about a mile and a half northwest of Sadorus notified the Department of Natural Resources on Oct. 25, and then Conservation Officer John Williamson brought the bird to the clinic in Urbana.
"The conservation officer had to chase him around for awhile to get him. This bird was moving around, but it couldn't get enough lift to fly, which told us there likely was a wing injury."
The staff doesn't know how the golden eagle got injured.
The three-foot-tall bird is dark brown, with light golden-brown plumage on his head and neck and a triple gray beak.
Whittington said the bird weighs nearly 7 pounds, and his wingspan is between 6 and 7 feet.
An X-ray showed a fracture of a bone on the bird's left wing.
"It's not a catastrophic fracture, like if you broke your femur, but it is like breaking one of the bones of your arm," Whittington said. "You can still function, but it would hurt."
The staff gently put the eagle's wing in a wing bandage, a fabric that conforms to the body's parts without restricting movement.
"Because only one of the bones is fractured in his wing, the other one is serving as a natural splint," Whittington said. "He's actually pretty docile, but when you handle him, he will struggle."
Whittington expects it will take four to six weeks for the bird to heal.
Then the clinic staff will transfer the eagle to the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center with a flight facility large enough to accommodate the bird.
"He's basically an extreme athlete who is being benched for one or two months," she said. "They need to build up the bird's stamina."
Then the bird will be released so he can fly back to his natural habitat, she said.