Golden eagles and other injured birds of prey being rehabilitated are getting more space to spread their wings at the Tucson Wildlife Center.
The center helps restore the birds, and other animals, back to health before reintroducing them to the wild. With some help from Tucson Electric Power, it's building two new enclosures for the eagles and raptors on the five-acre east-side property.
Currently, the center has one flight cage, where the birds exercise their wings to recover their strength. It's their final stop before being released back into the wild.
The cage is fine for most raptors, but for golden eagles, which can have wingspans of up to 7 1/2 feet, it's not enough.
"It's just not quite big enough, and it's not tall enough," said Lisa Bates, the center's executive director of the 15-foot-wide and 85-foot-long structure.
TEP crews spent several days this week installing 17 power poles, the framework for two new side-by-side enclosures for the birds. The company frequently donates its used wooden poles to several nonprofit organizations and has been partnering with the wildlife center since the late 1990s, said Sharon Foltz, manager of community relations for TEP.
One of the enclosures, about 20 feet wide and 100 feet long, will be used solely for golden eagles. The adjacent 15-foot by 80-foot enclosure, will house other raptors.
The rest of the work on the flight cages, including installing doors and netting to keep the birds inside the enclosures, is expected to be completed by July.
With three total enclosures, the center will be able to accommodate more birds at one time.
"We're like a busy airport with one runway, and now we're gonna have three," Bates said. "So now we're gonna be able to do a much more efficient job."
The center usually receives about five or six golden eagles a year, Bates said.
One eagle, brought to the center in November from the Willcox area, is being rehabilitated in the current flight cage.
The eagles are brought to the center with various injuries, but many times they have lead poisoning caused by eating carcasses shot with lead ammunition and left by hunters.
The eagles will be treated to remove the lead from their intestinal tracts and stomachs once they are brought to the center, Bates said.
"Usually, they're pretty far gone," Bates said. "Everything in the tract is empty. They've been starving for a week or so. They can't think right. It's a neurological poison; they can't think, they can't eat or hunt and they're almost on death's door by the time people find them grounded."
Time is critical when it comes to being able to rehabilitate a lead-poisoned eagle. "If we get them quick enough, it's very successful," Bates said. "It just depends on how long they've been down, how long ago they ingested it."
It takes an average of three months to get the eagles back into the wild, and could take longer depending on the extent of their injuries, Bates said.
Scott Richardson, a supervisory biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Tucson, said the golden-eagle population is on the decline, mostly due to habitat loss.
"On a local level, in particular, an individual or two can make a difference with a species that is relatively uncommon," Richardson said of eagle rehabilitation efforts.
"We're like a busy airport with one runway, and now we're gonna have three. So now we're gonna be able to do a much more efficient job."
The Tucson Wildlife Center's executive director
Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4224.