Even for someone who has personally cared for thousands upon thousands of sick or injured wild animals, Sue DeArment has found herself in unusual territory lately — ready to run for her life at a moment’s notice.
Twice a day, she’s offering food and medication to a bald eagle.
Sometimes with the help of an assistant, but often on her own, she has to strap down the birds, careful not to be clawed, bitten or confronted by a full-scale attack. And these are the “depressed” birds, she said — so sick or injured that they aren’t at full strength physically or emotionally.
DeArment is director of Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center on Stull Road near Saegertown where its own record was broken last year. Instead of treating one eagle
every year or two, they cared for five bald eagles in 2007. And there is one currently under their care at the center.
These eagles are a testament to an amazing turn-around on a statewide level. As recently as 30 years ago, just one pair of nesting eagles lived in Pennsylvania, in a marshy area on state gameland not far from Interstate 79’s Cochranton exit. It was the only known nest in Pennsylvania, officials reported at the time.
Since then, due mainly to tireless propagation and conservation efforts, the eagle population has made an impressive comeback in recent years.
So, DeArment has found herself in “tough situations” quite a lot lately — giving special care to these majestic birds at Tamarack. One thing is for certain about the eagles: “If it’s a normal eagle, no way!” she says. “I couldn’t even think of (helping) an eagle that was at full strength. There’s the possibility of getting severely injured by these birds. An eagle can kill you. They don’t know you’re trying to help, and they think they have to fight for their lives. Even if there are two people and the bird is depressed, it’s a handful.”
Tamarack is a non-profit organization which specializes in rescuing, treating and releasing injured and orphaned wildlife. Last year 250 wild animals were treated at the center.
Even though the bald eagle was taken off of the endangered species list in 1995 due to efforts by Pennsylvania Game Comm-ission along with the state’s conservation organizations, it’s still a “threatened” species and is in need of expanding its population to ensure the utmost survival of the species, game officials stress. The species is still threatened because water pollution makes areas unsuitable for eagles to nest, and many nesting sites have been lost to human development. According to government estimates, about 7,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles exist in the wild, and experts now say the species population will continue to rise. As of a 2007, Pennsylvania Game Commiss-ion report there are bald eagles nesting in at least 31 of the state’s 67 counties, with 22 nesting in Crawford County.
“There were 13 eaglets fledged from Crawford County in 2007. The top three counties for bald eagle nesting are Crawford, Erie and Venango,” said Regis Senko, information and education supervisor of the Pennsylvania Game Commission of the northwest region. An area that has been increasing in bald eagle concentration is the Pymatuning Reservoir in Crawford County, he said.
“The bald eagle is such a graceful bird and once you look at one, it’s something that you don’t soon forget,” said Senko.
The main threat to bald eagles is overall pollution, he warned, which interferes with the birds’ nesting abilities. The bald eagle is strongly protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Act and there are strong criminal penalties for harming or disturbing the species.
“The most important thing to do if one finds a bald eagle, is to not touch it, and to call the Game Commission right away, even before calling us,” said DeArment.
Brown is a senior at Edinboro University of Penn-sylvania.