The story of four hatch-year 2019 bald eagles

From admit to soft release: the story of D33, DN9, Allamakee, and Calmar

These hatch-year 2019 (HY19) bald eagles were admitted separately, but soon were on the same rehabilitation plan.

D33 was admitted 5 June 2019 –  This HY19 bald eagle is from the nest near the Decorah Fish Hatchery and famous from the Raptor Resource Project (RRP) nest camera tumbled to the ground under the nest on 5 June. Hatchery staff were alerted and the juvenile was safely retrieved and taken to the hatchery before this eaglet began the journey to SOAR for evaluation and any needed treatment. During transfer to SOAR, Executive Director Kay Neumann noted the eaglet had numerous bites near the eyes and nostrils (nares) and on the back of the head from buffalo gnats (AKA blackfly). These bites left behind bloody scabs and left this eagle thin, anemic, and bit dehydrated. Kay could feel no fractures or swelling in the legs and wings. Bonus. Kay also noted before she even picked up the juvenile that the tail and wing feathers were not long enough for this bird to fledge. (RRP reports D33’s hatch day is 7 April 2019.)

DN9 was admitted 7 June 2019 – DN9 is from the Decorah North Nest and famous from the Raptor Resource Project (RRP) nest camera fell to the ground under the nest on 6 June. RRP board member, Dave K, was able to locate and rescue this eaglet on 7 June and was transported to SOAR the same day. During transfer, Kay noted that this eaglet had numerous bites near the eyes and nostrils (nares), on the back of the head, and the skin on the throat below the lower beak was raw from buffalo gnats (AKA blackfly). This young eagle is emaciated, anemic, and dehydrated. Kay did discover once at SOAR that DN9 had feather lice. Birds in poor condition typically have feather lice. Feather lice may crawl on you, but only in search of feathers. Kay reported no fractures. Even though this eaglet is older than D33 (Hatchery nest admitted 5 June 2019), DN9 still needed more feathers to have successful flight. (RRP reports DN9’s hatch day is 31 March 2019.)

Allamakee was admitted 8 June 2019 -This Allamakee HY19 shared a similar reason for admit with D33 and DN9, he was found on the ground unable to fly. This HY19 bald eagle was initially treated by RRP board member and veterinarian, Laura. Dr Laura noted that this eaglet was thin, weak, and had blackfly bites around the eyes. The Allamakee HY19 bald eagles AND D32 were admitted at the same time. (Dr Laura estimates this eagle at 10-12 weeks old at rescue.)

Calmar was admitted 12 June 2019 – A landowner called and reported that a juvenile bald eagle that has been down in the his cow pasture for a few days, but had seen the adults on the ground near the juvenile. This eaglet’s nest overhangs the cow pasture. Brian M from the Decorah Fish Hatchery (who suddenly had way more experience with hatch-year bald eagles needing assistance than a fisheries biologist ever imagined!) went to the farm and got this juvenile in hand. Brian noted that the adults had dropped fish near the young eagle, but that not much was eaten. Brian reported fly bites around the eyes and that this juvenile was “not acting eagly.” Kay noted at transfer that Calmar was thin, had stringy saliva (indicating dehydration), and that he had fly bites around his eyes and the back of his head. (The landowner watches the nest on this property and has compared development to the Hatchery nest and estimates that Calmar is 1-1.5 weeks younger.)

16 June 2019

D33 (front) and Allamakee moved from ICU to a 10×20 flight pen on 16 June 2019.

The snowy owl residents of one of the 10×20′ flight pens were moved to their air conditioned summer quarters (Iowa heat and humidity are not what snowy owls like). Then the 10×20′ flight pen was cleaned and made ready to be the 2019 Eaglet “Nursery.” Why only a 10×20′ area? These eaglets need space to stretch out their wings, start flapping exercises, and making short flight attempts from point A to point B. Too much space, too soon is not always the best.

The first eaglets ready to move from intensive care to the nursery were D33 and Allamakee. These eaglets are reliably eating, drinking, and pooping. Any medication routines needed are complete. Patients will often “telegraph” that they are ready for a change of scenery.

Moving days like this are the time when eagles are weighed, a beak depth measurement taken, blood drawn for a blood lead level (if not already done), and a dose of ivomec to control external parasites. D33 weighs in at 11.5 pounds and her beak depth measurement indicates she is a female. Allamakee is boy weighing 8.5 pounds and a beak depth consistent with male bald eagles.

17 June 2019

DN9 was moved to the eaglet nursery on 17 June 2019. DN9 joins D33 and the Allamakee eaglet. DN9 has gained 1.5 pounds in 10 days and still needs to gain weight. The initial beak depth measurement says ‘boy,’ but Kay is thinking that DN9 is a female based on the amount of weight to be gained and that this eaglet is not done growing.

eagle talons

DN9 painted left talon for flight pen ID.

While faithful nest-watchers were able to identify D33 from D32 while in the nest… Kay says that many eaglets in a flight room start to look alike! Fingernail polish has been painted on a specific talon on DN9 – left inside talon is teal. Over time, the nail polish will wear off. D33 has a right talon painted and Allamakee has no painted talons. Those of us viewing photos of the nursery may never see the colored talons, but Kay will be able to use these references to give us details into progress for each youngster.


3 in eaglet nursery

25 June 2019 picture of the “eaglet nursery.” Here you can see two eaglets perching.

26 June 2019

The eaglet nestlings are growing! Two of the three in the nursery are perching. This is the equivalent to branching. These young eagles are learning to socialize with others. They are eating normal eagle food – on Monday the 24th, together they ate a 3-pound carp! This is exactly what Kay expects to see!

On 26 June 2019, the Calmar eaglet was moved to the nursery. Calmar is a male and now weighs 7.5 pounds, up one pound from admit.

20 July 2019

The eaglets in the nursery (D33, DN9, Allamakee, and Calmar) are ready to move to the next size up flight pen that will allow for short flight. The weather has other ideas. It is just too hot to move the eaglets and would be stressful. Better to keep them where they are at with a constant breeze, shade, and cool water in their pool. The nursery eaglets are eating and pooping, flapping, bathing, and looking good.

25 July 2019

The hatch-year 2019 bald eagles in the nursery were moved to the 20×60′ flight pen! D33, DN9, Allamakee, and Calmar moved on 23 July and can now “start their engines” so to speak. This flight pen is large enough to allow for those necessary short flights that build muscle, stamina, and skill in landing. (Would this be like having a learner’s permit to drive a car?)

Moving birds from one flight pen to another is the time for getting updated weights. D33 is holding steady at 11 pounds and her beak depth has not increased (3.35 cm). DN9 has gained ½ pound (up to 9.25 pounds) and HER beak depth is now in the “female” group at 3.35 cm. Both Allamakee and Calmar are boys! Remember that children do not grow at the same rate and speed.

Once the eaglets have improved their flight skills, their next step in the rehabilitation process is to go to the eagle flight pen. This 100′ flight pen is where they can really develop their stamina, hone their flight skills, and will be able to socialize with eagles of various ages.

20x60 flight

23 July 2019 moving day to the 20×60′ flight pen. DN9 on high perch, D33 on low perch, and Allamakee and Calmar still on the ground.


Here’s a glimpse into a moving day for rehabilitating raptors. Hatch-year bald eagles D33 and DN9 move to the 20×60′ flight pen. This a compilation of three videos: DN9 released into the flight pen, D33 getting weighed, and then D33 being released into the flight pen followed by a short flight from DN9.

4 August 2019

The GoPro camera was mounted in a corner of the 20×60′ flight pen to get video of the eaglets first flights. In this pen are D33 and DN9 (both female) and Allamakee and Calmar (both male). Enjoy!

A soft-release at SOAR is the plan for the hatch-year 2019 bald eagles once each is ready for release. Supportive care can be provided to the eaglets at SOAR. A soft-release is one where after the ready patient is used to eating and navigating in that flight pen, the hack window / door is then opened and the bird can leave when ready. This flight pen is then left empty, with the window open, and food available until Kay (SOAR executive director) is sure that the released birds are not returning. These birds can also indicate they are not ready by not leaving. Appropriate food (i.e. a roadkill deer) can also be left at the pond on the property and at a feeding station just outside the pen opening to give them an extra chance at getting food after they leave. A soft release is more like leaving the nest. The soft-release option with the new 20×60′ flight pen was included for just this reason.


15 August 2019

Enjoy this video from the 20×60′ flight pen of D33, DN9, Allamakee, and Calmar captured on the GoPro Camera on 13 August 2019. There is a bit of sound… the hum is the exhaust fan that circulates air through the building. The juvenile at the end of the video gawking at the camera is D33. Savanna confirmed as most of the talon polish has worn off!


23 August 2019

One of the tasks that young bald eagles need to master is “water practice” – learning how to grab items out of the water. The GoPro Video camera (fabulous that they are weather / water-proof) was placed in the bottom of the wading pool. This gives a good look at the ceiling of the 20×60′ flight pen.

Kay went to get the thawing frozen fish to put in the pool. They all need to learn to grab food out of the water!

In the meantime, DN9 decided it was bath-day! At the end of the video, DN9 leaves the pool, but comes back to check out the camera a bit closer. I’m not sure if she turned the camera on its side with her beak or a foot, but you do get a nice close-up of a talon.

D33, DN9, Allamakee, and Calmar are becoming more proficient at “sticking the landing,” they’ve learned how to use that tail to steer and make turns, and are easily flying straight up to a perch. They will get water-practice while still in the 20×60′ so the fish won’t be snatched from the pool by the adult bald eagles in the big flight pen!


31 August 2019

The four hatch-year bald eagles in the 20×60′ flight pen have mastered taking food items out of the water, flying, turning, and landing. Next up in their rehabilitation process is to build stamina and social skills.

To accomplish these next tasks, D33, DN9, Allamakee, and Calmar have all moved to the 100′ flight pen! As part of the moving process, weights and beak depth measurements were taken again (since they could still be growing!). Both females (D33 and DN9) weigh in at 10 pounds and have a tish more depth to their beaks. There was no change noted for the two males.

The photo shows all four of them up on the far back perch. They are sitting under a skylight panel so they look washed out.

4 HY19 bald eagles

Four HY19 eaglets to the 100′ flight pen on 30 August 2019.

15 September 2019

Take a peek into the 100′ flight pen and watch D33, DN9, Allamakee, Calmar, and a HY18 bald eagle show off their flight skills! The strong flyers will dominate the airspace and the other bald eagles just hang back. Their time will come, too.


20 September 2019

Yes, D33, DN9, Allamakee, and Calmar have taken their “wild maiden flight.” If you watched the video with the post titled “Gaining flight strength” you saw much improvement in flight skills in each of these young eagles. These eagles showed Kay they were ready… so back to the 20×60′ flight pen with the soft-release window.

On 18 September, trail cameras and the GoPro were turned on in hopes of getting their leaving on video, the window was opened… Kay reported that an osprey flew overhead as everything was getting set. For many of us, an osprey flyover is good karma!

One by one these bald eagles “flew the coop” in a very short time. DN9 is the “ring leader” and it looks like they followed each other out… not wanting to get left behind. The timer on one trail camera indicates all left within 25 minutes of DN9 leaving. “They were ready,” Kay said. In Kay’s years of raptor rehabilitation and soft-releasing falcons, hawks, osprey, barn owls, and bald eagles, she has witnessed birds leaving right away to some hanging back, a bit tentative on their departure. With that, she was conservative in her estimate on how long it would take for these four bald eagles to disperse.

Now that you’ve watched the video a time or three, raise your hand if you noticed that each is sporting new jewelry? Yes, these four bald eagles have an official USGS band. Years ago, Kay was a sub-permittee on a banding permit, so she and her husband have the experience of banding bald eagles. Kay talked with Brett Mandernack of Eagle Valley Nature Preserve as he has banded young bald eagles (including from the Decorah nest) as part of his research project looking at juvenile dispersal and travel behavior. Would Brett consider banding these four?

Obviously he said yes. But not without some contemplation and also checking with the banding lab to make sure it was allowable to band rehabilitated birds. Brett said initially he was interested in banding D33 and DN9, but when he realized that this group of four would be rehabilitating together, he thought banding all four eagles could lead to interesting information. Brett also said that he hopes to not have any band return reports for about 25+ years so the next generation of eagle researchers will have that interesting information!

We understand that this news is a tad bittersweet as we no longer can share pictures and videos. Please be comforted by the fact that they are now living the eagle life they were destined to have.