Follow Harley's Travels
In early August 2009 on a long stretch of County Highway T near Wascott, Wisconsin, motorcyclist Brian Baladez passed a bald eagle on the side of the road. Realizing the bird was injured, Baladez wrapped it in his leather jacket, strapped it to the back of his Harley Davidson motorcycle and transported it to the Duluth Zoo to find help. One vet and police car ride later, Brian and eagle were referred to the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center in St. Paul, one of the most renowned centers for raptor medicine and surgery.
At The Raptor Center, Dr. Irene Bueno-Padilla, a Veterinary Intern from Spain, lead the case diagnosing the eagle with a fractured ulna (wing) and lead poisoning. The lead poisoning is most likely the result of consuming prey shot with lead bullets. In addition, readers of the Duluth News Tribune named him "Harley" in reference to his unorthodox rescue vehicle after his story was published. To repair his broken wing, Harley underwent surgery performed by Dr. Julia Ponder. Harley's flight rehabilitation was delayed due to intense molting of his flight feathers. According to Dr. Ponder, this is a common problem associated with wing injuries.
With the help of numerous volunteers, Harley took flight in mid-December 2009 and was exercised regularly. The Raptor Center staff was confident that Harley would able to survive on his own in the wild, and he was released at Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center near Hastings in late January 2010. He was fitted with a back-pack style transmitter that would send data on his travels.
Update January 2012
We received notification that Harley's body was found in a farm field near where he was last known to have been in the Evelyth area. In September 2011, Dr. Ponder traveled to the area to hike the farm and scour the area where his last transmissions were from. She talked with the local land owners, but did not see Harley. It was possible he was already down in the hay field. The local Department of Natural Resources conservation officer returned his transmitter and what was left of the body to us.
While we are still hoping we might get a bit more information from testing, the cause of Harley's death is not clear at this time. One very interesting finding raised a few questions - Harley had recently molted almost all of his primary flight feathers on one wing. This is a very abnormal molt for a raptor as that many missing flight feathers would make flight challenging or impossible.
After following Harley's story for two years, it is hard to believe he is gone; we had hoped that only his transmitter had died. We enjoyed watching Harley's travels, we got a lot of information from him, and we set the stage for piloting some new education initiatives and began to see some new possibilities. We have many reasons to remember Harley fondly.