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Eagle Love Story: Injured Mates Reunited At Rehab Center

Back together. The female, left, taught her mate how to get up to the perch. (Bless the Beasts Foundation)

Here's a feel-good story.

"Two seriously injured bald eagles, found two months apart and more than a mile away from each other near the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge," in Western New York State, "were rescued and reunited in a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Medina last week," the Buffalo News reports.

And on today's All Things Considered, raptor rehabilitator Wendi Pencille tells host Michele Norris the remarkable story of what it was like when the two lovebirds were reunited.

The first eagle to come to her wildlife center, Pencille said, was the female — which has a snapped tendon in a wing and won't be able to be released in the wild. Then last week, Pencille got the report of an injured male eagle and brought him to the center. He most likely got hurt in a fight with another eagle and won't be able to live in the wild again either because part of a wing was amputated. (Update at 10 p.m. ET: Earlier, we said the male had hit a power line. Pencille got in touch to correct us. The female was injured that way.)

Pencille was nervous about what would happen next, but needed to see if the two birds could coexist at her center. There just wasn't room to put the second eagle anywhere else but in the cage with the female.

"Normally when we introduce raptors in a cage together that are not related, there's an altercation," she told Michele. Sometimes, it's a fight to the death.

"I put the male in the cage ... and he was very frightened," Pencille continued.

Then, "all of a sudden he makes a call. ... And as soon as she hears that ... she goes just out of her mind trying to get his attention."

And that started a series of events that surprised Pencille: The female, after many attempts, taught the male how to hop up a series of steps to her perch. She actually jumped down and showed him what to do.

"Once he's up on the perch, they're touching each other," said Pencille. "They're standing so close to each other that their ... wings are touching each other. ... I'm absolutely shocked that there's no fight."

Pencille called a friend who has banded birds for 20-some years. He said "that sounds like a mated pair, that sounds like a bonded pair."

In other words, two mates who never would have seen each other again if the male hadn't also been brought to the center, are now together.

We've got a long audio clip of Pencille telling Michele about what happened. (There's one short pause about 16 seconds in where we clipped out a bit of the conversation.)

More from their talk will be on today's All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post.

For information about the Bless the Beasts Foundation network of wildlife rehabilitators in Western New York, click here. And Pencille has posted many photos of the eagles here.

All this talk about eagles reminded us that we should check on how things are going in Decorah, Iowa, home to the "eagle cam" that so many folks were watching this spring.

Good news: the three eaglets there have left the nest.

Update at 4:40 p.m. ET: In other raptor-related news, a veterinarian in Oregon performed mouth-to-beak CPR on a injured bald eagle during a recent surgery, according to KTVZ-TV ("central Oregon's news leader).

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

We're going to head to upstate New York for this next story, a love story. About 50 miles east of Niagara Falls, a pair of bald eagles have been reunited, and here's how it happened.

First, a female raptor was found with an injured tendon in her wing. She was rescued by Wendi Pencille, who rehabilitates injured animals for a volunteer organization.

Then two months later, Pencille got another call, this time about a male eagle who also had a badly injured wing.

The two birds would have to share a space, and Pencille was worried because eagles are quite territorial, but these two eagles, when they got together, Pencille noticed something special, something screenwriters might call chemistry.

Wendi Pencille joins us now to tell us about these majestic lovebirds.

Welcome to the program.

WENDI PENCILLE: Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: Now, let me understand this. You didn't know these two bald eagles had some sort of connection, and you knew that they'd have to share a space, a flight cage. But it now appears quite likely that they were mates when they were living in the wild. How did you know that?

PENCILLE: I've been doing this for 25 years, and I just do raptors. I just do the hawks, owls, eagles and falcons. And normally, when we introduce raptors in a cage together that are not related, there's an altercation, you know, a couple of birds pecking at each other. They could grab each other with their feet to the point where the severity could be that they would kill each other.

I sit at the end of the cage with leather gloves on. They go up to my shoulders. So that if I have to go in and separate the birds, I can go in and get in between them and not get myself hurt.

So as I introduced the male eagle to the female that we'd had already for two months, I'm waiting for the worst. I put the male in the cage, and he got in, and he was very frightened.

The female was sitting, you know, 50 feet away from us on a perch six feet off the ground. He's looking around, and she spots him. And she gets very quiet, and she waits. And she's bobbing her head around, trying to get a better look at him.

And all of a sudden, he makes a call that the eagles make. And as soon as she hears that, she just goes. She gets so animated. She's back and forth on the perch, and she goes just out of her mind trying to get his attention. And then she's going back and forth on the perch. She's constantly calling to him.

Once he's up on the perch, they're touching each other. They're standing so close to each other that their - physically, their wings are touching each other. And I was shocked that there's no fight. It doesn't make any sense. It's just the behavior is an absolute aberration.

NORRIS: What happens to these two birds now? Can they be released into the wild, and would you separate them? Would you release one and not the other?

PENCILLE: OK. They can - neither one of the birds is releasable. I contacted the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the head of the endangered species unit wrote a letter recommending that the female stay with us.

And so we could use her for - as a foster parent. She would probably be a good foster mother for us.

NORRIS: A foster mother. So if you took in chicks, she could help raise them.

PENCILLE: Exactly. She's also a rather calm bird. We thought that she could also be used for education programs. So now, we get the male in. I believe it is her mate, and I don't want to separate the birds.

So the DEC was gracious enough to give us one of the birds. But if they feel our facility is, you know, not appropriate for the two, I would rather send her with him. Wherever they go, I want them to go together. I don't need a bald eagle more than I need them to stay together.

NORRIS: Wendi Pencille is a wildlife rehabilitator for the Bless the Beasts Foundation.

Wendi, thanks so much for talking to us, and let's hope those two birds stay together. Thanks again.

PENCILLE: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST OF MY LOVE)

EAGLES: Because here in my heart, I give you the best of my love. Oh, sweet darling, you get the best of my love.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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