When Tracy Ash first saw the large bird on her rural Modesto property, she thought it was a hawk.
It soon became apparent that the bird was an eagle. And that it was hurt.
“He’d been there for four days,” said Ash, who lives off Crows Landing Road south of Modesto. “He was staying out by the horses, near the horse barn.”
Ash called several agencies before getting referred to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Wardens came to her property Thursday and spent several hours trying to capture the bird safely, eventually getting a blanket over it.
They took it to the Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center in Hughson, where employees were surprised to see that it wasn’t just any eagle. It’s a bald eagle, though it isn’t “bald” yet.
The eagle is about two years old. Bald eagles don’t get their signature look until they grow up, said Donna Burt, director of the care center. That’s at about 4 or 5 years of age, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The bird doesn’t appear to have any broken bones, though Burt said she can’t know for sure because it’s not stable enough to be taken to a veterinarian for an X-ray. It does, however, have some other problems.
“It’s emaciated,” said Burt, who estimated that a bald eagle this age should weigh 11 pounds or so. This one weighs 91/2. And is hasn’t been flying for a while. “We can tell from the damage on its feathers it’s been walking around on the ground.”
Burt and her staff have been giving the bird fluids and vitamins and feeding it. Once they get the bird – its gender is not yet clear, but Burt thinks it’s a female – stabilized, they will take it to a Roseville care center that specializes in eagles.
The bald eagle, a symbol of the United States, has rebounded from several decades ago, when federal officials placed it on the endangered species list. Still, seeing them locally is pretty rare.
Volunteer Jonell Hassapakis said this is the first time she can recall a bald eagle showing up at the care center, “and I’ve been going out there close to 20 years.”