DECATUR (AP) – An Illinois bird rehabilitation center that wants to expand its facilities in the new year marked the end of 2013 with the successful release of two bald eagles.
The Illinois Raptor Center, located in central Illinois just west of Decatur, freed the eagles Saturday near the Sangamon River. One landed for a while several yards away and the other headed immediately toward the river.
Both were malnourished juveniles when they were recovered. One had badly damaged feathers at the time and required a year at the center to regrow a healthy, flight-worthy coat.
"Hopefully they will stick around and find some other eagles in the area," said the center's program director, Jacques Nuzzo, after shooing one of the birds off to freedom. "I'm confident they'll do well."
Bald eagles were removed from the U.S. endangered species list after their numbers rebounded during successful recovery programs. State protections remain in place for the bald eagles, thousands of which winter along Illinois rivers
The Illinois Raptor Center, established in 1991, takes in up to 300 protected birds a year, including owls, falcons and songbirds.
In 2014, the center plans to build a 300-foot-long flight facility that will enable eagles and other birds to exercise their wings prior to their release. Money is still being raised for the expansion, which is expected to cost up to $250,000.
"I intend for us to have the biggest one in the state," Nuzzo said.