When an old female bald eagle found herself blind in one eye and her
sight failing in the other, her life became a struggle. On the
ground in Garrett, west of Tuscola, she was helpless, unable to find
food, weak and starving. An Amish family spotted the bird in their
pasture and invited a neighbor to look at the bird they found. The
neighbor, Cynthia Appleby, assessed the situation and immediately
phoned the Illinois Raptor Center.
Jacques Nuzzo, program director at the center, was about to leave
work for the day but stopped short of going out the door to answer
one last phone call. Because bald eagles are not all that common in
the area, Nuzzo was unconvinced that the caller had actually found a
bald eagle. But Appleby was insisting that her description was
accurate, so Nuzzo threw a pair of heavy gloves, a large net and
raptor equipment -- hood and wing restraint -- into the center's
Jeep Liberty and headed toward Garrett.
To Nuzzo's surprise, there in the pasture stood a very, very
large bald eagle. The size of the bird indicated that it was a
female. Getting closer to the bird, he could see that one eye was
hazed over. He could walk toward her on that side and she could not
see him. Turning her head, however, she caught sight of him and
launched herself into the sky with her huge wings. She flew up and
away about 300 feet, circling to the right before crashing to the
As Nuzzo approached her again, she flew up and tried landing in a
tree, only to fall through the branches to the ground. Nuzzo quickly
seized the bird's moment of confusion and netted her as gently as he
could. She knew the chase was over. She surrendered. Proudly and
bravely she accepted whatever fate she was now to endure.
Nuzzo restrained the huge bird with the raptor equipment and
thanked the people who had cared enough about the bird to make the
call to help her. A crowd had gathered to watch the rescue, and
Nuzzo spent a few moments educating people about eagles and their
natural history. The Amish family had named her Ruby, and the name
fit her perfectly. She was truly precious. With Ruby now secure in
the raptor equipment, Nuzzo headed back to Decatur.
Many other birds come through the door of the Illinois Raptor
Center, but none as large and majestic as the bald eagle. Directors
of the center feel it is truly an honor to help these birds, a
symbol of our nation, which are protected not only by state and
federal laws covering all native wildlife, but by special laws that
protect eagles, their nests and their habitat.
Ruby is a survivor. She must have seen so much in her long life.
Eagles can live to nearly 25 years or more in the wild, and Ruby is
an old bird. She must have flown up and down the Mississippi and the
Illinois River countless times. She has seen years of habitat
change, habitat loss, progress and increasing human civilization.
She has undoubtedly been mother to dozens of eagle chicks. She may
have even outlived several mates. She survived for months after
being blinded in an eye. But Ruby's long life and good fortune in
the wild have come to an end.
Ruby figured out quickly that if she is to survive, she has to
adapt to being fed by people, adapt to being handled by people and
adapt to being around people. Ruby is a very smart bird. She swiftly
picked up on the fact that Nuzzo had food and food meant life. It
took very little coaxing to get Ruby to eat. She never panicked.
Even with failing vision, she saw that the center was there to help
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Permit Office
in Fort Snelling, Minn., under the Department of the Interior, must
be notified within 48 hours of admitting a federally endangered
species or an eagle to any wildlife rehabilitation facility in the
Great Lakes Region. After making that call, Nuzzo made an
appointment with a veterinarian who specializes in avian care, Dr.
Ken Welle of All Animals Pet Clinic in Champaign.
Ruby made the trip to Champaign in a carrier -- not in raptor
equipment this time. She rode very well. During the exam, she
behaved extremely well; she never stressed. After she was returned
to the carrier she was rewarded with a treat and ate it eagerly.
Most birds don't think of eating after such an ordeal, but Ruby is a
During Welle's exam he found that Ruby was thin. Normally a large
female bald eagle can weigh 13 to 14 pounds. Ruby weighed 10 pounds.
The right eye showed a partially detached retina, and the left eye
showed a completely detached retina. Partial vision was present in
the right eye, but Ruby is completely blind in the left. Iris
atrophy suggested advanced age. Otherwise, Ruby had no other
abnormalities. However, Ruby's days in the wild are gone forever.
She will need long-term care and a permanent home.
[to top of second column]
Returning to Decatur, Nuzzo quickly put the wheels of the
government in motion for Ruby. With another phone call to the
federal permit office, Nuzzo began the paperwork process to request
that Ruby be added to the Illinois Raptor Center's permit for live
eagle exhibition, to enable Ruby to live out her life at the center.
On Tuesday, the center received the signed, dated and stamped
document giving approval of that request. Ruby is now a wildlife
ambassador for the Illinois Raptor Center.
Ruby's care is now up to Nuzzo and Jane Seitz, executive
director. Nuzzo and Seitz care for nearly two dozen nonreleasable
birds of prey at the present time. Included are hawks, falcons,
owls, eagles and a turkey vulture. A 1-year-old male bald eagle
called Kenny, from Minnesota, is blind in one eye. Phoenix, a female
golden eagle from South Dakota, is a wing amputee and has lived at
the center for 10 years. In addition, the center recently received
permission to give another eagle a permanent home. A male golden
eagle found near Yellowstone Park has arthritis and shrapnel from a
possible gun shot embedded in its wings and will be making his home
at the Decatur facility. The bird was scheduled to be sent to
Bloomington on Delta Air Lines for pickup on Friday.
The eagles and other permanent education raptors at the Illinois
Raptor Center can be seen by the public in presentations given at
events such as Eagle Day celebrations at Havana, Meredosia and
Starved Rock, as well as other presentations throughout the year.
Ruby will be part of the Raptor Camp for children 11-14 during the
last week in June (see announcement below).
The Illinois Raptor Center has the largest traveling live raptor
conservation program in Illinois. The center gave 73 outreach
programs in 2005, reaching over 13,000 people. Staff members travel
the state, and also Indiana and Iowa, educating people about
habitat, natural history and how to live with our wildlife
neighbors. This year the center has built a new outdoor education
pavilion and will be able to schedule on-site programs for the first
time. The facility has been at its present location since 1994.
The Illinois Raptor Center, a private nonprofit organization,
gives care to orphaned and injured birds of prey and songbirds at
its facility west of Decatur, hoping to return them to the wild.
Several permanent resident birds serve as surrogate parents to
orphans. The organization is funded only by donations from
individuals, businesses and fees from education programs.
Food and care for Ruby, like for each of the other raptors, both
permanent and in rehabilitation, will cost hundreds of dollars a
year. The cost for food is presently $1,000 per month and will go up
with the addition of two more eagles. The center now needs to build
additional caging and is planning a new eagle complex at a cost of
$12,000 to house the four permanent resident eagles.
The center is calling on the generosity of the community and
surrounding areas to help Ruby and the other birds by donating to
the "Saving Ruby Fund."
Donations may be sent to Illinois Raptor Center, 5695 W. Hill
Road, Decatur, IL 62522.
[Jane Seitz, Illinois Raptor
For more information, visit
* * *
Registration is open to children ages 11 thru 14 for Raptor Camp
at the Illinois Raptor Center. The camp will be June 26-30, from 9
a.m. to noon each day, in the new outdoor classroom pavilion at the
Each day of camp will feature a different family of raptors up
close and personal through live birds of prey -- hawks, falcons,
owls, eagles and vultures. Participants will learn about natural
history, rehabilitation, habitat and falconry. The last day of camp,
participants will present a program for their family and friends,
using live raptors.
The cost of $75 per child includes T-shirt, materials, snacks and
an experience of a lifetime. Registration is limited to 20
participants and ends June 16.
To register call (217) 963-6909.
Center news release]