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Bald Eagles and Hawks Have Love Stories Too

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This is a story about love, tragedy, and new beginnings. 

Humans aren't the only animals who have long term monogamous relationships. In Summers County, West Virginia, there's a refuge and rehabilitation center for injured eagles, falcons, hawks, owls and songbirds. I visited the Three Rivers Avian Center (TRAC) this week. Surrounded by rehabilitating raptors, co-directors Ron and Wendy Perrone told me about  a couple of "married" eagles who made the New River Gorge their home.

Refuge for Birds that Need Healing

Ron and Wendy Perrone have been directing the TRAC for 24 years, almost in long as the 28 years they've been married.

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Gimli is an American Kestrel who is a permanent Educational Ambassador at the Three Rivers Avian Center. Photo courtesy of TRAC

Ron says humans aren't the only ones who form powerful long-term bonds with their mates.

“We've heard of red tail hawks caring for a mate that's been on the ground for years. Leading them to food and leading them to water and defending them. They're amazing this way.”

Ron and Wendy Perrone work as a team, and together they've helped rescue nearly 4,000 birds.

But despite their hard work, and the efforts of the vets who donate their services, they still aren't able to save every bird who comes to their center.

Last year a nine-year-old female bald eagle named Streaky was killed after she crashed into an Amtrak train.

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Credit Three Rivers Avian Center
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Regis the bald eagle is a permanent educational ambassador at the Three Rivers Avian Center. He especially loves Wendy Perrone

Streaky's mate Whitey was killed when he flew into the same train in 2013. For years, the pair had nested right along the road near TRAC. They raised about seven young eagles together. Many people, including Ron recalls what it was like to watch these wild eagles raising their young, year after year.

They were very tender to each other. And very caring for each other. Lots of talking back and forth, back and forth. And it was just a joy to watch them.”

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Robbie the Barred Owl is a permanent educational ambassador at the Three Rivers Avian Center

And like some human couples, this pair of eagles had a particular routine whenever they were adding to their nest.

You know they would go breaking twigs and branches off trees when they were working on their nest. He would drag something in and he would fiddle with it and get it where he wanted, and she's always would pick it up and move it. She was never satisfied with the way he arranged the furniture in the nest,” Ron said, laughing.

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Wendy Perrone and Gimli, an American Kestrel who is a permanent educational ambassador at TRAC. Photo courtesy of TRAC

 And unlike many smaller birds, male raptors and eagles even share some of the responsibility of raising the young. As a team, both parents play with their young and teach them to hunt.

“You know they can play with each other, they get up in the air. And when they get their young up there, and they have to teach them to catch stuff. One will have something in their mouth and they'll throw it to the other one and see if the other one can catch it out of the air,” said Ron.

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Nine-year-old female bald eagle named Streaky and her mate was a favorite for many people throughout Summers County. After being hit first by a train, then a truck, plus suffering from lead poisoning, she finally passed away in April, 2014. Photo courtesy of TRAC

That game almost sounds like Quidditch, doesn't it? 

Lead Poisoning Discovered in Streaky

Last year, after Streaky the bald eagle hit by the same train that killed her mate in 2013, she returned to their nest for nine days, trying to re-coop. But when she went out for food she ran straight into a truck. Wendy and Ron found Streaky and brought her to their refuge. They tested her for lead poisoning- which causes brain damage and disorientation in many birds of prey.

“She came in contaminated with lead, which we expected. You know, they come in because they've been hit by a car, right? Well you test them for lead and find out they've got a good load of it. Well it turns out they were flying drunk, basically,” Wendy recalled.

Lead poisoning- which very well could be the reason Streaky and Whitey both had their accidents- comes from eating fish and other meat that's contaminated. But if Wendy and Ron can catch it in time, they usually have a lot of success cleaning it out of a raptor's system.

They did get Streaky's lead levels down, but her injuries were just too extensive, and she died at their refuge.

New Beginnings

But Wendy says that a new pair have taken up house in Streaky and Whitey's old nest, named Brooks and Sandy (named after the Summers County towns of Brooks and Sandstone)

They're hanging out there, they're adding to the nest. There's lots of mating going on, and lots of lovin back and forth. And so we have hopes for chicks in the nest this year,” Wendy reported.

In the New River Gorge, the bald eagle population is growing. This January, 56 bald eagles were counted here.

Three Rivers Avian Center (“TRAC”) is a private 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to wild bird conservation and to educating and involving people in ecosystem stewardship. Founded in 1990, TRAC’s 103 acre facility is located in the southern portion of the New River Gorge National River, between Sandstone and Hinton in Summers County, West Virginia. TRAC also has a number of educational programs across West Virginia. Click here to see their calendar of upcoming events. Telephone: (304) 466-4683.

 


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