A bald eagle named Christmas is released back into the wild at Crane after rehabilitation

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A bald eagle named Christmas found freedom Tuesday at Lake Gallimore on the south side of the Naval Support Activity Crane installation. She was released close to the area where she was found, obviously injured, 52 days before by a worker at Crane.

With frigid temperatures and a biting wind, the eagle flew out of the gloved hands of Robert "Angel" Lange, a Navy veteran who now works as a wildlife rehabilitator. A few short hops up the grassy hillside, testing her wings, took the raptor to the edge of the icy lake.

Robert "Angel" Lange releases Christmas the bald eagle Tuesday near Lake Gallimore at Naval Support Activity Crane Base.
Robert "Angel" Lange releases Christmas the bald eagle Tuesday near Lake Gallimore at Naval Support Activity Crane Base.

While a handful of spectators watched, Christmas then headed out on the ice, into the frigid waters for a short swim and onto a small island in the lake.

"She's testing her wings," Lange said, explaining the bird hadn't been able to truly fly since she was caught almost two months before, even though she'd spent time in his flight cage in Knox County.

Christmas the bald eagle starts to get acclimated to her new surroundings Tuesday after being released near Lake Gallimore at Naval Support Activity Crane Base.
Christmas the bald eagle starts to get acclimated to her new surroundings Tuesday after being released near Lake Gallimore at Naval Support Activity Crane Base.

The raptor traveled to her release location in a 12-by-24-by-7-foot dog cage and needed to work her wings before taking to the air, Lange said.

While the bird was making her way onto the island, two other bald eagles watched from their perch in a tree above their nest, one of two active nests at Crane.

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Many bird species lay their eggs later in the year, but bald eagles in Indiana do so from December through February. Getting the adult female back into the wild near where she was found increases the chance she may find a mate this year.

When Christmas was captured, she had a puncture wound to her breast and an infected wing. Lange speculates the wound could have been caused during mating or while the bird was adding sticks to a nest.

Because of cooperation between Crane and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Crane officials were able to contact a conservation officer who then contacted Lange. A visit to a veterinarian for X-rays revealed no broken bones and the eagle was transported to Lange's rehab center where she was fed and medicated until her release.

The Crane installation about 35 miles southwest of Bloomington covers 63,000 acres, mostly in Martin County, with about 52,000 acres of forest, according to Brady Miller, NSA Crane natural resources manager.

While Naval Support Activity Crane and Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane are best known for the ordnance and technology stored and created on the installation, Jeff Nagan, public affairs officer, said caring for the environment is another priority, especially with the large land mass the installation encompasses.

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The National Audubon Society lists Crane as an "Important Bird Area," adding it has about 100 bird species including many that depend on large tracts of forested areas. Crane officials take annual surveys for certain bird species, including the American woodcock, according to Miller. But bald eagles are making a comeback, with some migrating through the area and others establishing nests.

The two active bald eagle nests, at Gallimore and Greenwood lakes, were established in the 1990s by birds released at Lake Monroe more than 30 years ago. Since that time, bald eagles have found their way to rivers and lakes across the Hoosier state.

Everyone involved with the release of Christmas was hoping she finds a mate and establishes another nest at Crane.

Contact Carol Kugler at ckugler@heraldt.com, 812-331-4359 or @ckugler on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Bald eagle released back into wild at NSA Crane after rehabilitation

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