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Vet School cares for bald eagle

Published: Saturday, September 1, 2001

Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 16:08

A bald eagle made headlines this summer after attacking sunbathers on nearby Salisbury beach. Tufts' Wildlife Clinic, at the Grafton veterinary school, nursed the under-fed and aggressive bird back to health before handing it over to a Georgia-based wildlife company.

"The eagle arrived skinny, hungry, and just confused," clinic spokesperson Barbara Donato said.

The Wildlife Clinic is a branch of Tufts University's School of Veterinary Medicine and sees over 1,800 animals every year. The clinic is the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Services official center for endangered wildlife.

At the clinic, veterinarians tested the eagle's blood for high mercury and lead levels to rule out chemicals and contaminants as causes of its aggressive behavior. "It was pretty obvious that this was a behavioral problem," said Dr. Florina S. Tseng, who worked with the bird.

Tseng explained that the bird acted normally, except for its unusually high comfort level with humans. "It would come and try to untie your shoe laces," she said.

Those familiar with the eagle said hunger may have led it to attack the sunbathers. The bird became accustomed to being fed by people and was unable to forage on its own. Donato explained that the eagle might have mistaken beach balls for food - inadvertently attacking people during predatory dives.

Tseng said this type of behavior is not uncommon among young birds that come into close contact with humans. "The question is whether this will be reversible," she said.

The clinic handed the eagle over to Steve Hoddy, of EarthQuest, Inc., a Georgia-based wildlife education company, on the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Hoddy planned to fly the eagle from Logan airport to Georgia that day.

Clinic officials held a press conference to announce these plans on Sept. 11. But minutes after the 9 a.m. conference began, reporters received word of the first terrorist strike in New York and left to cover it.

Hoddy realized he would not be able to fly out of Boston and instead drove the bird to Georgia.

Hoddy and his partner, Robby Sinkler, are currently evaluating the eagle's behavior for additional treatment. They plan to use behavior modification and positive reinforcement training to enable the bird to survive in the wild.

"We're very pleased that other experts can evaluate the eagle in a non-hospital setting," said Donato.

Hoddy and Sinkler first offered to intervene with the bird, which they named Freedom, in August. They offered to help catch the bird after reading about the attacks in USA Today

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