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Down, but not out: Golden Eagle rehabilitates in Polson

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Her name is Princess Leia and she will never fly again, but that doesn't mean her life is over.

Customers at the Southshore Vet Clinic in Polson have been treated to a rare experience over the past few months as many have gotten the chance to see a Golden Eagle up close. Leia, an injured Golden Eagle, came to the clinic more than 10 months ago after being injured in a collision with a power line near Malta.

Now under the care of Carlos Rodriques, Leia has come a long way since her injury.

"She hit a power line and was rescued there near Malta," Rodriques said. "She was stabilized and an operation was done on her broken wing. She has recovered quite a bit since then, but unfortunately, she will never be able to fly again."

After a brief stay with a rehabber Lynn Vaught in Kalispell, Leia made the move to Polson to stay with Rodriques.

"It was not an easy decision to make," Rodriques said. "After a few weeks of thinking it over, I decided to take on the responsibility. I had no idea what I was getting into."

An experienced falconer, Rodriques has spent plenty of time around birds of prey but has never cared for a Golden Eagle before. He said that taking care of a bird like Leia, especially one that is injured, can be a daunting task.

"When she first came here, she was very wild. She was just plain scared," Rodriques said. "She was angry and she resented being confined. Now, she has finally come to accept me as someone who is going to care for her."

While she may be rather easy going around people now, Leia was not the friendliest of birds after her accident.

"She was very aggressive those first few months," he said. "I was scared of her, but that is probably how it should be. I never forced her to do anything that she didn't want to do and, over time, she calmed down."

Having suffered a severely broken wing, Leia is lucky to be alive. If she had not been found as quickly as she was, her survival would have been unlikely.

"When they found her, the choices were to euthanize her or, if they could save her, they might could put her in a zoo if she wasn't too aggressive," Rodriques said. "There was also the option that, if she could be handled, she might could be used as an educational bird. That's where we stepped in. We took her and got her used to captivity and got her calmed down to the point of possibly using her for educational programs."

These days, Leia spends much of her time walking a rope between a pair of stumps in the front yard of the vet clinic. As a testament to how much she has calmed down over the past few months, several of the clinics free-roaming rabbits can also be seen walking around the same area where Leia likes to stay. She hasn't attacked one yet.

"You can see her thinking about it sometimes, but she knows she can't fly anymore and it would be hard for her to get at the rabbits," Rodriques said. "I still expect to come out some afternoon and see us missing a rabbit or two."

As far as Leia's future is concerned, Carlos says he thinks she might have a great future teaching people about eagles.

"Eventually, I'd like to see her become an educational bird," he said. "I think for a kid to be able to interact with and see an eagle up close, it gives them a chance to learn to respect them. Hopefully, they would think twice about shooting one after seeing how amazing they are up close."

"She has another 50 years to live. What I see with her is that she will become very used to people the longer that she lives in captivity. She is already quite gentle with people,” he added.

Every year, hundreds of injured raptors are found across Montana and many are able to recover due to the rehabbing efforts of vets, fish and wildlife personnel and bird rescue organizations.

Birds have been found with a variety of injuries, ranging from minor sprains to electrical burns and gunshot wounds.

According to the Raptor Conservation center in Bozeman, the most common causes of raptor injuries are collisions with vehicles, power lines and poisoning.


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