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Central Nebraska eagle soars home after recovering from lead poisoning

An adult female was released near Aurora after being treated by the Raptor Recovery program at Fontenelle Forest (NTV News)

A symbol of freedom – a bald eagle gets a second chance after a life threatening illness.

Bald eagles display power and beauty, but also vulnerability, as several have recently fallen ill.

“This particular bird had lead poisoning and we were able to treat her. She was a pretty quick turnaround,” said Denise Lewis, Director of Raptor Recovery at Fontenelle Forest.

Lewis said lead is killing eagles. Of the 18 Fontenelle Forest has rescued in Nebraska this year, all but two died.

She said, “Sometimes we get them in time, are able to treat them, sometimes it's too late.”

This adult female from Hamilton County was one of the fortunate ones. Twice daily injections allowed it to survive.

They say the lead comes from bullets.

Lewis said, “Say you get a deer, you field dress that deer and leave the gut pile. It only takes one little teeny tiny piece of that lead fragment, maybe rice size to kill an 11–pound female bald eagle.”

Third grader Jake Molliconi learned about it.

“They eat the carcass of them and get lead poisoning from them.”

Molliconi studied it, in preparation for his mom getting to release this adult female.

“They have really big feet,” he said, seeing the bird up close.

“My son listens,” Mary Molliconi said out of her Jake’s earshot, impressed he has been paying attention.

She runs the Edgerton Explorit Center where kids get hands on with science, and now she’s doing that herself, in a new way.

“You can feel every muscle in her body, just that tenseness, that she knew she was ready to get released and that power,” Molliconi said.

Her health restored, they released this eagle.

“Freedom is a wonderful thing for everybody,” Molliconi said.

They released from a conservation area just a few miles from where she was found.

“Go! Oh my gosh,” Molliconi shouted, moments after lifting with her knees and sending the bird skyward.

“Wonder what she's thinking,” she said, watching the eagle fly across the water.

The bald eagle is back home.

“Once in a lifetime experience. Just incredible,” Molliconi said.

It’s a moment that she’ll never forget.

“Wow. That was incredible.”

Lewis said eagle numbers are on the rise in Nebraska. And while lead bullets are an issue, they say hunters are great partners and often bring them birds, allowing for happy endings like this.

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