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Injured bald eagle set free at Burke Lake Park after rehabilitation

(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) A local bald eagle stretched its wings for the first time in over a month when it got released at Burke Lake Park this past weekend.

The adult, male bird was found in Fairfax Station on Dec. 23 by Fairfax County Animal Protection Police officers, who were responding to a call for service. In addition to being “underweight,” the eagle had head injuries and “a deep laceration on a leg,” according to the Fairfax County Police Department.

“The exact cause of the eagle’s injury remains unknown, but it is common for wildlife in urban areas to sustain injuries from various factors,” an FCPD spokesperson told FFXnow.

After managing to capture the eagle, the responding officers enlisted the assistance of Wildlife Rescue League volunteers, who transported it to Wildlife Veterinary Care in Boyce, Virginia. Led by veterinarian Dr. Belinda Burwell, the clinic provides free veterinary and rehabilitation services for sick and injured native wildlife.

According to the FCPD, Burwell specializes in treating raptors, but Wildlife Veterinary Care can take care of more than 200 different species of animals, per its website.

Burwell released the bald eagle at Burke Lake Park (7315 Ox Road) on Sunday, Feb. 4 after it spent six weeks in treatment and recovery, the FCPD said. Animal Protection Police officers, Wildlife Rescue League volunteers and park staff all attended the release.

Encompassing 888 acres of water and woodland, Burke Lake Park is an “ideal habitat” for eagles and other large birds, according to the police department’s media team.

“The park offers a suitable environment with abundant food sources and minimal human interference, providing the eagle with the best chance of thriving after its rehabilitation,” the FCPD said.

This isn’t the first time local police have worked with Burwell to rehabilitate a bald eagle.

She previously helped care for a bird suffering from an injured shoulder and lead poisoning that a community member had encountered on a trail near Burke Lake in December 2019. That eagle was also released at Burke Lake Park on Jan. 12, 2020, an occasion that drew over 500 onlookers, the Fairfax County Park Authority said at the time.

Burwell told the Washington Post that lead poisoning is a common issue in the five to 10 eagles that Wildlife Veterinary Care typically sees each year. Raptors are often exposed to lead when they eat the remains of animals shot by hunters, according to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, which admitted over 60 bald eagles last year — the most in one year since its founding in 1982.

The Wildlife Rescue League’s helpline, which is entirely supported by volunteers and donations, received 6,500 calls for assistance last year, including 2,896 calls for sick, injured or orphaned birds, according to WRL President Beth Axelrod.

“Ten of those calls were about eagles, and four eagles were transported by WRL volunteer transporters,” Axelrod told FFXnow. “I believe three of them were Fairfax County, one was from Loudoun.”

Virginia once had just 30 breeding pairs of bald eagles, but the species has recovered nationally in recent decades, to the point where it was taken off the federal list of endangered species in 2013.

According to data gathered by the Center for Conservation Biology, most of Fairfax County’s recorded nests can be found in the southeast, particularly around Mason Neck, but there was one nest in Burke Lake Park counted in 2015. The county is also home to hawks and at least one family of falcons that regularly nests at Reston Town Center.

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