This Rescued Bald Eagle Is a Survivor—and So Is the Species

Ragged but recovering, a denizen of the nation's capital survives a storm and serves as a reminder of the species' heartening comeback.

A bald eagle rescued in Washington, D.C. is on its way to Delaware for a final health check before being sent back home. Disheveled and unable to fly, the bird was recovered Saturday from a bush after a thunderstorm.

A city official guessed that "patient 17-1125" may be one of a pair dubbed Liberty and Justice living in a nest outside the Metropolitan Police Academy, about two miles from the rescue site—likely the male, Justice, based on its weight and talon size.

The eagle pair and their three-month-old baby were already famous as one of two bald eagle pairs in Washington, D.C., that the public can watch on a live video feed. On Tuesday morning the live cam on Liberty and Justice's nest showed no activity, but their eaglet, Spirit, appeared in earlier citizen reports over the last two days.

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A veterinarian at City Wildlife examines the bald eagle rescued in Washington, D.C., over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

A few decades ago, there weren't any bald eagles left in the nation's capital, and the U.S. symbol of freedom was on the brink of extinction. (See more photos of this majestic species: Bald Eagle Celebrated by National Geographic Photo Ark for Independence Day.)

Today, the bald eagle "is an Endangered Species Act success story," says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1978, it was listed as endangered or threatened throughout the continental U.S. Efforts to help the bird recover included nest protection, breeding programs, and a ban of the pesticide DDT, which was poisoning the birds via contaminated fish. (See also: Inside the Effort to Kill Protections for Endangered Animals.)

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Workers at City Wildlife sent the bird to a facility in Delaware for a final checkup. When it's deemed healthy enough, it will be returned to its nesting area in Washington.

By 2007, the species was deemed recovered and removed from the endangered list. Today, the estimated number of nesting pairs is close to 10,000—about a tenth of the likely population when the bird became a national symbol in 1782. Though bald eagles are no longer on the endangered list, it is still illegal to kill, sell, or otherwise harm eagles or their nests.

Bald eagles are believed to mate for life and live up to 25 years in the wild (see more facts about them). The pair at Washington's police academy have been there for 11 years, according to the live cam website, which is run by Earth Conservation Corps, a local youth group that ran a reintroduction program in the city in the early '90s. (See footage of another D.C. eagle pair, Mr. President and First Lady, with their eaglets in 2016.)

Wildlife experts surmised that rain from the Saturday storm likely weighed down the D.C. eagle. "These guys only weigh 15 to 18 pounds," Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist with the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, told NPR. "You add water to that, and it doesn't take much to ground them."

The bird was in good body condition and eating well, said City Wildlife, the organization that took the bird in over the holiday weekend. It was transferred Monday to an unnamed rehab facility in Delaware, said the facility's clinic director, where it will be X-rayed and examined further before being returned home.