Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Free as a bird

Right from the earliest days we have had a policy of ‘never turning anything away’, so when our director in Jordan got a phone call about “a huge bird landed in our garden”, he didn’t need any persuading before rushing off to check it out.
It was indeed a huge bird – a juvenile Imperial Eagle – Aquila heliaca.

It seemed to have flown into something and stunned itself, while flying south out of eastern Europe on its first migration. Young raptors are notoriously clumsy during their first year or so, and thousands are killed every year by flying into cables and wires or hit by traffic.

But fortunately, this youngster didn’t seem too badly injured, and a careful inspection back at the veterinary clinic showed no fractures or anything life-threatening, so we took him down to the wildlife garden in the Education Centre in east Amman, where he could recover quietly in a special cage, and perhaps most importantly, be kept away from human contact as much as possible. Because if you ever want to release a wild bird again, you must not let them lose their fear of man.

And Imperial Eagles have got every reason to be afraid of man. Their liking for wetland and marshland habitats has brought them all too often into conflict with fishermen and hunters – wiping them out over most of their range. In western Europe just a few pairs survive in the Coto Donana in southern Spain.
Our friend had probably come from the wilds of Eastern Europe, though they also occur right across to central Asia.

But after three weeks or so, he was fully recovered, and thriving on his diet of chicken offal – he really looked magnificent. So we gingerly transferred him to a special travelling cage (boy, that beak is sharp!), and set off down south. We wanted to get him away from the worst dangers – the miles and miles of cables and wires, as well as the dense human population around Amman.

We drove down to the mountains around Petra, where human settlement is almost non-existent, and on a stunning autumn day, we opened the cage door and let him go. After a few hesitant steps, he spread his wings and launched himself off the mountainside into the rising thermals, and effortlessly soared away up into the piercing blue sky, until he was lost from our view.

From there he could glide down to the reed-beds and swamps of the rift valley, or stay amongst the rugged peaks hunting for lizards and small rodents. A really heart-lifting moment watching him soar away, free again. The sort of moment that really makes our job so worthwhile.

1 comment:

KD said...

What an uplifting post and beautiful bird!