Bald Eagle ‘Volunteer’ Gets Tentative Clean Bill of Health After Escape
October 5, 2011
By Brittany Bailey
‘Volunteer,’ the Bald Eagle who escaped from Dollywood more than three weeks ago, is recovering from his adventures.
He may not be able to talk about his experiences, but his body tells at least part of the tale. He was a bit dehydrated and probably weighs a bit less, but so far, his vet said he looks pretty good.
“Overall, (he) looked better than I expected, a lot better than I expected,” said Dr. Michael Jones, who specializes in birds of prey at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. “I think he’s lost a little bit of weight, but we’ll see, given his weight now and what he was previously, but overall, he looked pretty good.”
On Sept. 11, during a check of the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary at Dollywood, a volunteer noticed one bird was missing. It turns out, Volunteer escaped through a hole in the net ceiling.
“When we saw the hole that he escaped from, we were actually, we couldn’t believe it,” said Al Cecere, founder and president of the American Eagle Foundation, who believes the hole was caused by either a raccoon or tree in a storm.
AEF volunteers immediately launched a search for the wayward eagle, who spent the next three weeks, and more, soaring over East Tennessee. He was spotted and photographed by several people, mostly tourists, at various locations, including Ober Gatlinburg, where he spent more than one day perched near a stage where a bluegrass band was playing.
Finally, this past weekend, Volunteer was once again spotted in Wears Valley, and the AEF team tracked him down to a cabin area on Tuesday.
Throughout the search, the team set several traps for Volunteer, but the eagle was either scared away or disinterested each time.
Then, on Tuesday, Cecere and his volunteers got lucky. They set the spring-loaded trap once more, and then staked in the ground three of Volunteer’s favorite treats — a trout, quail and rat. They wanted to make sure the eagle wouldn’t be able to scoop up his food and fly away again.
Finally, the trap worked, and the team captured the eagle, safely.
“We’re very, very elated, we’re very pleased, we’re so happy, you wouldn’t believe, and we thank God for every person that called and all the help we got from everybody in East Tennessee,” Cecere said.
Now 23 years old, Volunteer was taken from his nest in the wild as a baby and taken to a zoo where he became part of a breeding program. Cecere and his team received Volunteer, and his lifelong mate, Hero, in 2007.
Because he has lived his entire life in captivity, Cecere was concerned Volunteer would not be able to survive in the wild for long. He believes he made it as long as he did by feeding on roadkill and food given to him by people.
“He enjoyed his little adventure, we didn’t enjoy it, but he had a great time, I’m sure. He got a lot of flying in, but again, he wouldn’t have survived, and that’s the key thing,” Cecere said. “Some people think, when they see an eagle got released, they immediately say, oh, I’m glad he’s free. Well, what they don’t understand is that eagle wouldn’t survive very long, so he would have a very short life, maybe within weeks, or a couple months maybe.”
On Wednesday, Volunteer went to Neyland Stadium on with Challenger, who was rehearsing for his planned flyover at the UT-Georgia game this weekend.
While there, Dr. Jones and his team of doctors checked both eagles. Volunteer got some fluids and gave a blood sample. Dr. Jones said experts will use the sample to check the eagle for infection or inflammation and to make sure his liver and kidneys are OK.
Cecere said Volunteer will be under watchful eyes for a few more days to make sure he has fully recovered, and then he will reunite with Hero.
“As they say, teamwork makes the dream work, and that’s what happened,” he said.