SPRINGFIELD — Onlookers burst into applause and cheers Sunday afternoon as Trooper the resuscitated bald eagle was released from a cage and flew into the wide blue yonder.
Well, sort of. She didn’t so much fly like an eagle as flap rather lazily into the branches of a nearby dead tree in Springfield’s Riverside Park. You could hardly blame her for feeling like she needed a minute or two to get her bearings and her breath back.
On Jan. 6 she had been found crumpled by the side of Interstate 55, not far from where she was released, by Sgt. Aaron Entringer with the Sherman Police Department, who was assisted in rescuing the eagle by Illinois Conservation Police Officer Brian Snodgrass.
Bald eagles, mighty symbol of these here United States and an in-your-face apex predator, are not above dining a la carte from roadside roadkill. That was what Trooper, so named because of her police connections, was doing when she fell victim not to fowl play, but a passing knockout blow from a vehicle collision.
“I walked up and snapped this picture,” said Entringer, showing a shot on his phone of the bloodied, prone bird. “I assumed she was deceased ... and then she blinked at me and I am like, ‘Whoa’ ...”
Trooper’s 6-foot-plus wingspan was enfolded into the caring wings of Decatur’s Illinois Raptor Center and painstakingly nursed back to health. She had a nasty bloody scrape down one side of her body, a talon was broken and the tip of her mighty beak was snapped off and she was coughing up blood when IRC program director Jacques Nuzzo and executive director Jane Seitz first saw her.
They handled the release on Sunday with the rescuing police officers among a crowd numbering more than 200 looking on. Seitz explained that Trooper and her flight back to health has since become something of a Facebook sensation, with the IRC followers total up by some 10,000 as well-wishers swooped on regular updates about her progress.
Seitz said Trooper has a good chance of making a renewed go of it in the wild and, as eagles bond for life, she probably still has a mate out there who’s been wondering where the eagle that clawed his heart flew off to. “They stay together for life and this is the time of year when they are starting to pair up and bond,” said Seitz.
“So, I think we got her back in time. Because if her mate had already gotten a mate, then it might cause a domestic dispute.”
Everybody watching Trooper ascend into the blue sky on a surprisingly warm afternoon was firmly of the opinion that if one bird in God’s creation deserved a happy homecoming back at the familial nest, it was this one.
“What a blessing to see she was saved, and what a blessing to see all these people come to support her,” said spectator Pam Telger of Chatham, who brought along her grandchildren Amelia, 16, and Matthew, 7.
“I’ve been following it all in the news and I just love eagles," added Telger, 72. "They are like our country; they’re strong, and they hold themselves up with pride.”
And occasionally, as Trooper would no doubt confirm, they get by with a little help from their friends.
Herald & Review, Jim Bowling 13 week-old baby snowy owl, Yeti, explores a corner of nature decorations inside the Illinois Raptor Center.
Illinois State Raptor program director Jacques Nuzzo, left, talks with with Sherman Police Sgt. Aaron Entringer on Sunday at Riverside Park in Springfield. Entringer was the one who first found Trooper, along with the Illinois State Police and Illinois Conservation Police.
Sherman Police Sgt. Aaron Entringer, center, Conservation Officer Brian Snodgrass, left, and Illinois State Police Trooper Kevin Marrie help unload Trooper the eagle on Sunday at Riverside Park in Springfield.