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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 3, 2011

After crashing through windshield
Bald eagle makes touch-and-go recovery under young Becker’s care

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — The art and science of healing wounded wild creatures is being passed on to a new generation in the Becker family.

Dr. Lexi Becker, who grew up at The Animal Hospital and, since childhood, wanted to be a veterinarian like her father, is now tending to a bald eagle that crashed through a car windshield along a highway near Binghamton last week.

The female bird, estimated to be younger than three years old, sustained critical injuries, and was transferred quickly to the Animal Hospital in Guilderland, where Dr. Edward Becker, who owns the hospital, has been doing wildlife rehabilitation for over 25 years. Any licensed veterinarian can treat wild birds, but a Federal Migratory Bird Permit is required to do rehabilitation and to keep a bird for any length of time.

Lexi Becker has been working at the Animal Hospital for the past two years, since she graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine with honors, and last week took on the challenge of the injured eagle.

“It has been really touch and go because of her injuries. Eagles are very fragile, because they don’t have many reserves,” Lexi Becker said on Friday. The eagle, which she said weighs roughly 11 pounds and has not reached sexual maturity, received a deep laceration on her back that cut through layers of muscle down to one of her lungs. She also suffered a broken clavicle.

Becker said the bird must have been hunting along the highway, and either been very focused or hit by a wind spell, causing the accident. The bird, she said, must have gone through the windshield back first, based on the location of the laceration. If she had gone through front first, she likely would not have survived, Becker said.

The bald eagle population in New York is climbing after a re-introduction during which fledglings were brought in from Alaska, according to Becker. The birds were on the endangered species list due to environmental contamination from pesticides.

“The chemicals affect calcium levels, and then the females can’t lay eggs,” Becker said. The most damaging type of pesticide has been banned.

The birds tend to live near bodies of water, but, during the winter, they hunt along the roads because it is easier to find food.

“They are definitely opportunists,” Becker said. The bird she is working with now is still in critical condition, but she said things were looking up.

“It is encouraging that she is starting to eat on her own, bear weight on her legs, and move her talons,” she said. However, even if things continue to go well, it could still take months for the bird to heal completely.

“We’re keeping her on antibiotics to try and prevent an infection in her lungs,” Becker said. If the eagle heals well enough to fly, she will be placed in a large flight cage that the Animal Hospital uses for birds in rehabilitation. In fact, the Guilderland hospital has the largest flight cage in the state, Becker said.

Typically, if a bird fully recovers, the Beckers release it back into the area where it was found. If a bird does not recover well enough to return to life in the wild, Becker said, there are a lot of educational programs in the area that would keep it.

“A bald eagle has a life span of up to 30 years, and can live even longer in captivity,” she said. Until the Beckers know if the bird will recover enough to be released in the wild, however, they try to minimize the its contact with human beings, so it doesn’t get too comfortable. If that happens, and the bird is released back into the wild, it could spend too much time close to civilization, leading to a dangerous situation.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the bald eagle’s condition was continuing to improve. Becker is hopeful she will make a complete recovery.

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