1/7/2014 8:35:00 AM Three golden eagles released back into the wilds near Mayer
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Magnum, a rescued Golden Eagle, looks around as the Arizona Game and Fish Department prepares to release him and two other Golden Eagles.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Onlookers watch as a female Golden Eagle flies off during Arizona Game and Fish Departmentís release of three Golden Eagles Friday. The eagles had been through rehabilitation at the Adobe Mountain Hospital.
For what is possibly the first time in the history of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the agency released three golden eagles at once Friday just north of Mayer.
Different stories brought the majestic eagles together for rehabilitation at Game and Fish's Adobe Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, but they all experienced a return to freedom together Friday on a rocky hillside just a mile north of busy Highway 69.
"Nobody can remember when we released three together," said Mike Demlong, wildlife education program manager for Game and Fish. "The good news is, they're releasable."
The three eagles underwent rehabilitation in a huge flying pen with a couple turkey vultures, so the youngest would associate turkeys with easy back-up meals of carrion if he has trouble figuring out how to catch prey.
Logan Beck of Chino Valley arrived at the release site Friday just a few minutes too late to see the eagle he found along Walnut Creek north of Prescott on Dec. 22 get released back to the wilds Friday.
"He's probably one of the few people who ever caught a (healthy) eagle," said Jerry Ostwinkle, Adobe's eagle education and rehabilitation coordinator who volunteers most days at the center. Ostwinkle holds a rare government falconry permit to work with the federally protected golden eagle.
Beck was hunting deer when he saw the eagle struggling unsuccessfully to get out of a steep ravine filled with trees on Dec. 22.
"She just couldn't get out of there because of the trees," he said. Ostwinkle said the huge golden eagles can quickly become exhausted if they're trying to fly up a steep hill without the help of wind currents.
The eagle rolled on its back in a defensive position when Beck got close to it, sticking its powerful talons out in front.
Beck threw a sweatshirt over the eagle, hobbled its legs with a binoculars strap so its talons couldn't hurt him, put it in his front passenger seat and drove it to the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott.
The eagle initially struggled until he uncovered her eyes.
"As long as she could see me and see out of the truck, she just sat there pretty calm," he said.
A band on the eagle's leg showed it was born in Oregon where Beck's family members happen to live, too.
"We thought that was ironic," said Beck's grandmother Leffel Beck of Prescott, who joined her husband, grandson and granddaughter-in-law at the release site Friday.
Game and Fish probably would have released the female eagle right away because she turned out to be healthy, but since the agency had a young juvenile that needed help to survive, officials decided to release three together, Ostwinkle explained. The young juvenile male would just die on its own, he said, because it doesn't know how to hunt.
"Game and Fish is making a huge effort to make sure this is all done right," Ostwinkle said.
The young juvenile male was found near Tucson and probably had just fledged from its nest, Ostwinkle said. Two hikers picked him up.
The third eagle was about a 15-year-old male that probably was hit by a vehicle and sat in a field near Yuma until someone found it malnourished. It didn't have any major injuries.
Since golden eagles can hurt themselves and others when people try to pick them up, people generally should leave them where they find them, get GPS coordinates and a photo, and call Game and Fish unless the eagle is clearly injured, said Tuck Jacobson, bald eagle management coordinator for Game and Fish. The parents of the juvenile, for example, probably were caring for it.
The juvenile and older male stuck around the release area Friday, while the female from Oregon sailed off.
"They're doing exactly what they're supposed to do," Adobe Center Coordinator Sandy Cate said as she watched the male eagles study their new territory.
"This is our favorite part, when the animals get released back into the wild," said Heather Brown of the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, who also came out to watch Friday's release.
"They're pretty cool," Jacobson's young son Payson observed.
"The golden eagle is the most successful predator on the planet," Ostwinkle said. He does falconry with a golden eagle named Magnum, and has seen goldens take down large game. Near Mayer they'll have plenty of rabbits to eat, he said.
"It will be interesting to see what the young juvenile is going to do," said Ostwinkle, who will be keeping a close eye on the eagle for the coming week.