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Adults, teens rally to rescue injured eagle

The bald eagle is on the mend at a Spooner raptor hospital.

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Dylan Soyring, 16, of Maple, reaches out to an injured bald eagle along the side of Wisconsin Highway 13 in the town of Lakeside on Sept. 8. The eagle, named Marlys, is recovering at Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital in Spooner.
Contributed / Marcia Nelson
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LAKESIDE, Wis. — Marcia Nelson, of Superior, was driving to her cabin in Poplar on Sept. 8 to let her dogs run off some energy. Maple resident Dylan Soyring, 16, was on his way back from the store with plans to spend the afternoon fishing with a friend. They met in the town of Lakeside along Wisconsin Highway 13 near the Middle River, drawn together by an injured bald eagle.

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An injured bald eagle rests on the side of Wisconsin Highway 13 in the town of Lakeside on Sept. 8. With the help of a few Douglas County residents, the raptor was safely transported to Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital in Spooner.
Contributed / Marcia Nelson

Soyring, a junior at Northwestern High School, saw a white car pulled to the side of the road with an eagle in front of it. The female driver had noticed the injured raptor and stopped.

“The eagle’s on the side of the road and cars are going by. So I grabbed a towel out of my car and put it over the head of the eagle so it couldn’t see me, so I could pick it up and carry it safely. And I brought it over into the ditch, so if it hopped a little bit it wouldn’t get hit again,” Soyring said.

That’s about the time Nelson pulled up. The first woman on the scene had called 911, but couldn’t stay, leaving Nelson and Soyring to care for the raptor.

Nelson, of Superior, said she was impressed by the teen’s ability to handle the bald eagle.

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A band on the leg of an injured bald eagle found Sept. 8 in the town of Lakeside helped identify the raptor as a 4-year-old female that was banded as a chick in Illinois.
Contributed / Marcia Nelson

“He knew exactly how to do that, exactly how to pick it up. It was freaking unbelievable, because these eagle talons are bigger than my hands, you know, super dangerous,” Nelson said. “It was amazing.”

While they were waiting, Soyring checked on the eagle and discovered two things: It had what appeared to be a broken right wing, and a band around one of its legs.

“When they’re babies and they’re in the nest, DNR will go to the nest and they’ll put a band on a bird and it’s research. So if somebody hits and kills it, years from now, they can look up that band and it tells you what date it was banded and where,” Soyring said.

Nelson was surprised by the teen’s knowledge.

“He just knows everything. It was super impressive. He loves birds. It’s all out of the goodness of his heart. He was like going to take care of this bird no matter what,” she said.

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Dylan Soyring, left, and Nolan Larson bring an injured bald eagle out from the wooded area along Wisconsin Highway 13 in the town of Lakeside on Sept. 8.
Contributed / Marcia Nelson

She contacted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and was given a number for Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital in Spooner. The nonprofit, run by Dr. Kim Ammann, is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of wild raptors, or birds of prey. The classification includes eagles, hawks and owls.

Amman talked them through what was needed, asked them to find a box large enough for the eagle to rest in and a driver willing to meet one of her volunteers in the town of Gordon.

Soyring was able to get a box from a nearby residence and enlisted the friend he’d planned to go fishing with, Nolan Larson, to provide a vehicle large enough to transport the box in. When Soyring reached down to put the bird in the box, the eagle got spooked and ran off into the woods.

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“It must have got its breath back,” the teen said.

The two 16-year-olds went after it. It was, Nelson said, a potentially dangerous situation.

“Probably three, four minutes later out walks Dylan carrying this bald eagle with the towel over his head through this tall grass and the trees … I just couldn’t even believe it. It was amazing. And he was just, like, so knowledgeable and so passionate and so caring and so kind that I just felt like this is one of the things that people need to realize that kids are like this today,” Nelson said.

Deputy Nate Halverson with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, who responded to the injured eagle call, contacted the parents of both teens. They agreed to allow the boys to transport the eagle to Gordon. Soyring and Larson handed the eagle off to volunteer Dennis Dunn at about 9 p.m.

On the mend

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An x-ray shows the break in the wing of the bald eagle found along the side of Wisconsin Highway 13 in the town of Lakeside on Sept. 8. The eagle, named Marlys, is recovering at Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital in Spooner.
Contributed / Dr. Kim Ammann

The bald eagle had been hit by a car, resulting in a bad fracture of her major wing bone. In order for the bird to fly again, it has to heal perfectly. Ammann said the bone was fractured in multiple pieces, including close to the joint, which makes it harder for it to heal properly.

“Right now, everything that can be done is being done,” Ammann said.

The eagle has been through surgery and is tolerating the metal pins holding her bone together. The bird is also taking food and medication well.

The band around the bird’s leg gave Ammann, who has been rescuing raptors for years, a glimpse at the eagle’s history — the female bald eagle is 4 years old and was banded when she was a chick in a nest in Illinois.

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During surgery, Ammann found out something else about the eagle, which she named Marlys.

“I guess prior to its lifetime somebody had maybe shot at it because there was a couple of metal pellet BBs or whatever found inside of her, that she still had a couple inside her,” said Soyring, who is following the eagle’s progress on Facebook.

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Marlys, a 4-year-old bald eagle who is recovering from a broken wing, is shown at Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital in Spooner.
Contributed / Dr. Kim Ammann

Ammann has treated enough eagles to know each has a different personality.

“They have very individual styles and personalities and things they do and don’t tolerate. And some of them I think really have senses of humor; sometimes they’re just silly,” the veterinarian said.

Marlys, named after a friend of one of the nonprofit’s supporters, is a tough, big-boned, no-nonsense bird.

“So far, she’s tolerating me and tolerating the situation pretty well, so I give her a lot of credit,” Ammann said.

“That is one lucky eagle to have those two young men happen upon it in its time of need,” Nelson said.

She and her dogs made it to the cabin in Poplar that night, despite the roughly two-hour delay. Soyring and Larson, however, had to cancel their fishing plans. The Maple teen said he did manage to get out fishing the following week.

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Nolan Larson, 16, from left, Dylan Soyring, 16, and Douglas County sheriff's deputy Nate Halverson pose for a photo during a bald eagle rescue along Wisconsin Highway 13 in the town of Lakeside on Sept. 8.
Contributed / Marcia Nelson

“I’ve always loved birds from the get-go, all sorts of birds,” Soyring said, and he stopped along the highway Sept. 8 because he wanted to help.

The teen’s knowledge came from watching shows on birds and from his own experiences growing up on a beef farm.

“You’ve gotta think about an animal. You’ve got to just imagine what they’re going through right there. Think about how they would react and how they would want you to, if you were the bird, how would you want other people to handle you?” Soyring said.

Ammann said the Maple teen sounded like a young, enthusiastic guy who knew the basics: Get the bird out of the roadway and cover her head to calm her down.

“That was good, common sense,” Ammann said.

Updates on Marlys can be found at facebook.com/wingedfreedomraptorhospital .

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Where to bring injured wildlife

If an injured raptor is found in Douglas County, the closest wildlife rehabilitation center that accepts them is Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital in Spooner. People who come upon a raptor that appears to be in need of help should call 715-781-2595 or 715-205-4266. Volunteers can help people safely approach and assess the bird.

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Larry, a bald eagle rescued from Lost Land Lake in Hayward, exercises his wings on a soccer field with the help of Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital volunteers July 15. The technique, which involves attaching a line to the bird before letting them fly, is called creancing.
Contributed / Dr. Kim Ammann

“If you can approach it and it doesn’t flee, there’s something wrong. It’s never going to be a normal behavior for a raptor to allow you to approach very closely,” said Dr. Kim Ammann, the veterinarian who runs the nonprofit raptor hospital.

If it tries to flee and can’t make altitude, is uncoordinated, or has an obvious problem with a wing or a leg, it needs help.

“It’s not going to survive on its own; it’s going to spiral into death. So anything they can do to reach out to us, you know, is potentially gonna save a life,” Ammann said.

The nonprofit officially opened in 2021, but Ammann has been caring for injured raptors in Spooner for more than 15 years. While working full time, she saw up to 20 raptors a year. In 2021, she saw about 64 raptors.

“We’ve already blown that away, I think we’re at 68 or 70 now for this year already,” Amman said.

What’s causing the increase?

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Freedom, a red tailed hawk rescued Memorial Day weekend from Cushing, continues to visit the Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital every week or so for a visit, although the raptor has been released into the wild.
Contributed / Dr. Kim Ammann

“Mostly, I think, because there’s a place to go. There just is no other raptor rehabilitation around and many people, even if they find a bird, if they’ve got a three-hour trip ahead of them to get it someplace they just sort of say, ‘I can’t or ‘I won’t,’” Ammann said.

The hospital’s case load currently includes a patient from Douglas County: the bald eagle named Marlys who was found by the side of Highway 13 in the town of Lakeside less than two weeks ago. Ammann said she mostly gets hawks and eagles from Douglas County. One common thread is involved no matter where the raptors come from.

“Most of what we see is directly related to some type of human influence,” Ammann said.

That includes vehicle collisions, lead poisoning and even a bald eagle that was snagged in a fishing lure. Rat poison can also work its way up to predator species like raptors. There are things humans can do to reduce their impact:

  • If you see a dead animal on the roadway, stop and pull it into the ditch away from the road.
  • If you see an injured bird or hit one with your vehicle, stop to help.
  • Slow down if you see a bald eagle or other raptor along the road.
  • Make the switch to lead-free ammunition and fishing gear.
  • Don’t use poisons to kill rodent pests.
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A red-tailed hawk nestling, Freedom, was rescued from Freedom Valley Campground in Cushing on Memorial Day weekend and brought to Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital in Spooner.
Contributed / Dr. Kim Ammann

Another recent danger to raptors, avian influenza, started decimating raptor populations this spring. Ammann was no longer able to send any overflow cases to the Raptor Center in St. Paul. If a bird showed any signs of avian flu in the field, they would be euthanized.

“There’s no surviving it and it’s a horrible neurological disorder in raptors. It’s just horrible to see,” Ammann said.

The nonprofit recently broke ground on a larger facility, funded through supporter donations, that would increase the space available for recovering birds and house the fully functioning hospital that currently resides in Ammann’s basement. It will also include a large open-air enclosure where raptors can regain their flying prowess together. Currently, volunteers have to take the birds out to a local soccer field and fly them on a lead.

The Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital welcomes donations for ongoing operating costs and volunteers to help with transportation. Visit wingedfreedomrh.com or facebook.com/wingedfreedomraptorhospital for more information.

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Winky, a barred owl who appears to see poorly from one eye and normally from another, may never see well enough to get released from Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital in Spooner. She is shown Aug. 18.
Contributed / Dr. Kim Ammann

Wisconsin resources

If people find an injured animal in Douglas County, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources lists the following rehabilitation facilities in the area:

  • Winged Freedom Raptor Hospital, Spooner, 715-781-2595: eagle and raptor.
  • Whistler Bends Wildlife, Webster, 715-566-3652: rodent, rabbit, raccoon.
  • Kari Fox, Webster, 715-349-8676: rodent, rabbit, perching birds, reptile.
  • Lynn Seeger, Rice Lake, 715-234-3306, Lynn54868@yahoo.com : opossum, raccoon, mustelid, canid, raptor.
  • Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release, Colfax, 715-832-1462, ps.wrandr@gmail.com : opossum, rodent, rabbit, canid, raccoon, perching and non-perching birds, raptor, reptile.
  • Chippewa Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation, Eau Claire, 715-838-0326: opossum, rodent, rabbit, canid, felid, mustelid, raccoon, waterfowl.
  • If the facility is not taking animals, people can contact the DNR Wildlife Hotline by email, dnrwildlifeswitchboard@wisconsin.gov , or leave a voicemail at 608-267-0866.

Minnesota resources

Those who find an injured wild animal of any species can contact Wildwoods , a wildlife rehabilitation center in Duluth, at 218-491-3604. The nonprofit also lists information on how to determine if an animal needs help or not at wildwoodsrehab.org and posts updates on injured animals on its Wildwoods Facebook page .

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is not letting Wildwoods accept animals from Wisconsin, according to Executive Director Jessica LaBumbard, due to the possible transfer of diseases such as chronic wasting disease, avian influenza and rabbit hemorrhagic disease.

“We frequently receive calls from Wisconsin, and if it is not one of the animals that we can accept, we do refer to rehabilitators in Wisconsin and provide whatever education we can over the phone,” LaBumbard said.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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