This injured bald eagle at Philippe Park was rescued and taken to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary.
SAFETY HARBOR – It was just going to be another, normal day at the park for Carolyn Puckett. Puckett, 43, of Dunedin often made the trip to the Philippe Park in Safety Harbor to meet her friend Annette Marie Anderson. There was nothing unusual about the day, yet Puckett would later describe it as one of the best days of her life.
She arrived at the park around 11:30 a.m. Jan. 11 and sat on a bench waiting for her friend. Alone, she began to notice unusual things around her. A great blue heron was standing in the water nearby facing her.
“It wasn’t looking toward the water where its food was, it was unusual in that it looked at me,” said Puckett.
Then an osprey began circling overhead, around and around her. Finally it flew away but within minutes another osprey came and did the same thing.
“They weren’t fishing, they were trying to send a message,” she said.
Then, said Puckett, the morning light changed and seemed like a beacon shining on her. She was soon to discover what that beacon was for. Shortly after her friend Anderson arrived and they chatted on the bench for five minutes. Then they both noticed something large in the water swimming toward them, swimming toward where the morning light had been shining.
“We thought it might have been a giant turtle,” said Puckett. “It was coming directly at us. We soon saw that it was a falcon-like bird; it turned out to be an eagle.”
It was then that the adventure intensified.
“Annette said let’s go closer, so we did,” she said. “The bird came directly toward our feet; it was soaking wet. It opened its wings and we could see that it was not injured that way but it was just too weak to fly.”
Then Plunkett said the bird looked up at them, made a connection then seemed to give up.
“He slumped over, he totally slumped over, it was so sad; it was enough to make you cry,” Plunkett said.
It was then Plunkett and others in the vicinity called the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary to have the bird rescued.
Plunkett said while they were waiting for the rescuers to arrive she learned a valuable lesson.
“If you see an injured bird you should stay with it at all times, at least keep an eye on it,” she said. “Annette and I both left the bird for a few moments, other people had moved off and when we got back the bird had disappeared.”
They finally located the bird nearby in a mangrove thicket near the seawall. It had taken refuge there.
“The bird wasn’t frightened and trusted me and he seemed to know help was coming,” said Plunkett.
When the help did arrive, two hours had passed since the bird was first spotted. Plunkett said the rescuers were very careful with the young eagle and wrapped it in a towel and took him away in a cage.
“Just before they left I went to say goodbye to the eagle, he made eye contact with me. I knew he was all right,” she said.
Laura Riordan, an avian care specialist at the Seabird Sanctuary in Redington Shores said the eagle is doing fine.
“He’s doing great,” she said. “His lower beak was extended longer than his upper beak, and the upper beak was twisted to one side. We’re not sure if that is a birth defect or the result of a fight with another eagle, that is possible.”
Riordan said they have managed to shave off a little of the bottom beak to bring it more in line with the other and they will do a little more in a few days. She said the twist in the upper beak couldn’t be fixed so the bird cannot be released.
Apart from the beak issue Riordan says the bird will be OK.
“He is eating and drinking on his own,” she said. “He doesn’t like fish but he does like mice so we don’t have to do anything further. His wings are fine, they get full extension.”
It is because of those wings that the bird can’t stay at the Seabird Sanctuary.
“Our flight pen is not quite big enough for a bald eagle,” said Riordan. “They need a lot of room to fly and they need flight time. If they don’t get it their wings will stiffen.”
The Audubon Birds of Prey Center in Maitland is a possible destination for the eagle, which is a juvenile. It takes five years for a bald eagle to mature and until that time, short of a blood test, it is impossible to tell if it is a male or female. Riordan said they would like to find out more about the bird before they decide where it will go and be used as an educational tool for school children.
Puckett, who first spotted the eagle, said her background came together to make it all possible. A former physiotherapist, four years ago she went into a field of holistic approach to healing. She believes the energy techniques she learned helped her communicate with the eagle and helped it trust her during the rescue. She hopes to put photos of the bird on her website blissmyofascialrelease.com.
Plunkett said she will never forget that day in the park, the day she helped save the young eagle.