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A bald eagle flew to freedom from the hands of its veterinarian in front of a crowd of 150 people at the York River State Park on Wednesday.
"Releasing an eagle into the wild is great," said veterinarian Ernesto Dominguez. "You know your work was worth it."
The noon-time release was sponsored by the Wildlife Center of Virginia. One of two captured male bald eagles was released at Wednesday's event. The other eagle is still in rehabilitation. The location for the release was selected for its prime habitat near the Chesapeake Bay, according to an event news release.
"It feels much better when you're holding the bird," Dominguez said after releasing the eagle into the wild. "Then you can feel how it's flapping the wings, and how it's pushing the air to go up and to fly free, and that's awesome."
The eagle had been accidentally poisoned after consuming meat from a euthanized deer, according to one of the bird's caretakers Ron Moon. Moon said there were two poisoned eagles brought in at the same time, and the Wild Bunch Rehabilitation Refuge normally cares for 25 eagles annually.
"It's nice when they do make it," Moon said. "Because I'd have to say maybe one out of four survive."
The process of rehabilitating the birds starts with diluting the poison in their bodies with saline solution. Moon said the eagles were given 130 cubic centimeters of saline solution in the initial process.
Dominguez said it's rare for a bird to be poisoned from consuming meat from a euthanized deer. But it is not uncommon for eagles to suffer from lead poisoning after consuming meat from an animal shot by a hunter.
"This particular case was different because another veterinarian humanely euthanized a deer, and then the deer was not properly disposed," Dominguez said.
He explained that eagles are scavengers and will eat whatever meat they find, often paying for it with their lives.
"There [are] few cases where you can save these animals," he said.
Ed Clark, Jr, the president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, added that hunters need to mindful of where and how they dispose of game.
"After it stops, that bullet can continue to kill," Clark said. "People don't go into the woods to deer hunt with the idea they're going to kill an eagle."