Dianne Moller knows adoption isn’t just for people.
She will tell you that bald eagles adopt other eagle babies—if the timing is right.
Moller is a raptor rehabilitator and educator based outside Milton.
Since the end of May, she has taken in almost 10 baby eagles, unable to fly, from Rock County and around the state.
Some came from nests destroyed in storms.
Some jumped out of nests to escape swarms of black flies.
Others were found on the ground, where they were vulnerable to predators, and they could not be put back in their nests.
“We always try to put birds back in their nests if the nests are accessible,” Moller said. “Wild animals are so much better off if you can leave them with their parents.”
If not, the next best thing might be another wild parent.
Moller found homes for two rescued babies by integrating them with new families.
In those cases, Moller fed and cared for the young birds until they began to fly. Then she introduced them into replacement homes.
“I did a lot of homework on this,” she said. “I know someone who was doing this with ospreys, and it worked well.”
In cooperation with private landowners, Moller closely monitored two eagle nests in Rock County and noted when the young birds were beginning to fly.
Then she released the birds in her care at different times in the areas of two different families.
The rescued birds flew up near the nests, where their adoptive siblings waited for parents to return and feed them.
“There’s a small window when the birds start flying and the adults still bring them food in the nest area,” Moller explained.
She added: “The parents can’t count. They just know there’s something there that needs to be fed.”
The youngsters are ravenous.
In one day, bald eagles can eat about a pound of food and grow 2 inches.
They reach mature size at about 10 weeks and begin flying at about 12 weeks.
An adult can weigh 8 to 13 pounds. By comparison, a red-tailed hawk weighs 2 to 3 pounds.
Moller attached a transmitter to one of the young birds so she could track its progress.
“The transmitter provides the proof that we are looking at the same bird, that the young bird is with the (adopted) family and that it has a crop full of food,” Moller said. “This is the most critical part of the story.”
She can track the bird up to 50 miles until the battery wears out. Eventually the tiny transmitter will fall off or the bird will pull it off.
“We can integrate birds,” Moller said. “It just takes the right timing.”
She said the young birds in her care have the best chance when they are raised by eagle families.
“They can hunt with the parents,” Moller said. “They can flex their muscles outside of a cage. They can just be wild birds.”
Moller has years of experience caring for injured adult eagles and juveniles.
But taking in so many babies is a first.
She called it a new normal because of increasing numbers of nesting bald eagles in Rock County and the state.
Once listed on the state and federal endangered-species lists, bald eagles have made a soaring comeback.
Nesting surveys conducted last year by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources revealed a record number of nesting birds, with 1,695 nests occupied by breeding adults.
The number included 11 nests in Rock County and the first reported nest in 50 years in Walworth County.
Moller raised several babies until they could fly and then released them where they were found.
If young birds were sick or injured, she nursed them back to health.
They all had a surrogate mom.
Moller put the youngsters in a pen with Madeline, an 11-year-old bald eagle who cannot be released in the wild because of a permanent injury.
Madeline had no more than four young birds with her at any time.
“She quickly adopted them,” Moller said.
The young birds were placed with an adult bird so they do not imprint on people.
Because of the extra eagles in her care, Moller is doubling her eagle facilities at Hoo’s Woods, a private, nonprofit raptor and rehabilitation center near Milton.
She is thrilled when she returns young birds—or any birds—to the wild.
“I’m genuinely happy,” Moller said. “It’s truly rewarding. You know you are getting them back where they belong.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email email@example.com.