Metro

Bald eagle makes flight to freedom in Winthrop

Alan Hinde captured an injured southern bald male eagle on June 26 in Winthrop harbor.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Alan Hinde captured an injured southern bald male eagle on June 26 in Winthrop harbor.

WINTHROP — It was just over two weeks ago when Janet Willwerth opened her back door and found an unexpected visitor sitting in her backyard. At first, she thought the large animal was a raccoon.

“It was on the ground and just sitting there,” she said. “It was so huge.”

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Then the creature picked up its head and looked at her. It was an injured bald eagle.

Willwerth snapped photos of the bird and showed her husband, who then contacted their friend Al Hinde, an experienced raptor researcher who happened to be in East Boston that day. Hinde came over immediately to help the bird, who was unable to fly or hunt for food.

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“If it had landed anywhere else, it might have starved,” he said.

Hinde picked up the frail bird and took it to Tufts Wildlife Clinic in North Grafton, where it spent several days recuperating from a scapular fracture in its left wing.

The young bald eagle quickly gained back the weight it had lost, and was deemed ready to be released back into the wild this week.

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Bald eagles were wiped out in Massachusetts in the 1900s, but the species has been making a comeback since the 1980s.

Tom French, assistant director of the state’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, said the bald eagle was under 6 months old and probably flew up the coast from Florida and somehow got hurt along the way. “He’s still a youngster, and youngsters are just klutzes,” said French.

For this young eagle, landing in Winthrop turned out to be a good thing, because he was rescued.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

The young bald eagle quickly gained back the weight it had lost, and was deemed ready to be released back into the wild this week.

On Thursday the bald eagle returned to Winthrop in a large plastic pet carrier and was brought to Yirrell Beach, which is across the street from the Willwerths’ home.

When French opened the caged door, the bird was reluctant to get out. After a few minutes, Hinde kneeled down on the gritty sand, reached inside, and gently pulled out the majestic eagle.

A dozen onlookers watched in awe as Hinde held the bird on the beach, and then gave it a boost toward the sky. The eagle spread its wings and soared up into the air, and then circled back to the sandy shore. He wasn’t ready to fly away just yet. He landed back on the beach, and sat for a while looking out toward the water. Two tiny birds noticed the eagle immediately and began flying aggressively around its head and getting in its face.

The young eagle didn’t seem affected by the local birds’ taunts, and took its time on the beach, taking in the ocean view as planes roared overhead. Then, when he was ready, he spread his wings, took off on its own, and flew off into the distance.

A mocking bird flew around the southern bald eagle.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

A mocking bird flew around the southern bald eagle.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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