Nancy Laird is no stranger to rehabilitating raptors - and other birds, but one golden eagle she helped nurse back to health will be the star of the show when it is released Sunday during the 14th annual Spring Wings Birding Festival in Fallon.
The eagle, a 3-year-old female, was reported as injured last summer at the Carson Lake wetlands south of Fallon, according to Susan Sawyer, visitor services manager for the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge's Complex of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Nevada Department of Wildlife non-game biologist Jenni Jeffers was able to capture the severely weakened bird just as coyotes were approaching," Sawyer said.
Laird, who operates the Wildlife Infirmary for Nevada in Washoe Valley, said tests indicated the eagle might have had a case of West Nile Virus, as well as other problems including malnutrition, dehydration, an eye problem and a drooping wing.
"Laird, along with her dedicated volunteers, worked long hours to save the bird. Eventually, the eagle responded to treatment, and began to show signs of recovery, slowly gaining strength while being hand-fed, eventually flying and hunting food on her own," Sawyer said.
Laird said this is by far the largest golden eagle she has ever seen, even for a female bird which normally is bigger than the male. Golden eagles weigh from 6-14 pounds, and have a wingspan of nearly seven feet.
"Her legs were the size of my wrists," Jeffers said. "I'd searched for her, and the only way I knew where she was located was because three coyotes were coming my way. She had no energy left. I just threw the net over her and she just collapsed in my arms."
Jeffers transported the eagle to Laird's assistant, Suzette Feilen in Silver Springs, and after consulting Laird, they tube-fed the bird with a high-energy food, which Laird said likely saved its life.
Today the golden eagle is ready to be released. Jeffers will transport the bird to Fallon Sunday morning, and invites anyone wishing to get a close-up view of the release to meet in Oats Park Complex about 11:30 a.m. Transportation is available at no charge on a first-come/served basis, otherwise participants may need to carpool to the release site a short distance from town.
In addition to the Sunday release, Spring Wings offers other family-friendly activities this weekend.
Friends of Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge bring HawkWatch International, of Salt Lake City, as the featured performer at the festival. The one-of-a-kind show, "Raptor Rapture!" will be presented on Friday evening at the historic Barkley Theatre Oats Park Complex.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with a social hour and appetizers by the Churchill Arts Council and the Friends of Stillwater. At 6:30 p.m., live hawks and owls will kick off the evening during a special presentation by Jeffers.
"Raptor Rapture!" takes the stage at 7:30 p.m., with a lively, fun, interactive program exploring the value and beauty of birds of prey from many points of view. Jen Hajj combines live original music, natural history of the birds, amazing imagery, and audience participation during the presentation.
Tickets are available at www.springwings.org, or by calling 775-423-5128 to have tickets held at the door. Seating is limited.
On Saturday, a free Festival in the Park will be from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., including activities, booths, crafts, demonstrations, workshops, games and more for the whole family to enjoy. Bring a chair and soak up the sun while the kids discover, learn and have fun.
See a Master Falconer train her hawks; make a bird sculpture; learn from Cabela's pro staff how to choose the best optics for your sport of choice; see live Birds of Prey up close; build a bird nest; enter the raffles; visit the craft, gift and food vendors.
Saturday also includes birding hot spot tours of the Stillwater Wetlands.
A free introductory birding basics workshop and tour is being offered to Churchill County residents this Sunday in Oats Park. Alan Gubanich, retired UNR professor of Ornithology and Education Director for Lahontan Audubon Society in Reno, has developed this class for people of all ages who have an interest in watching, identifying and learning more about our migrating feathered friends.
The workshop begins at 7:30 a.m. in Oats Park at the festival registration tent, then moves to a nearby habitat where the group can practice birding skills. Transportation, binoculars, spotting scopes and field guides are provided. Seats are very limited, so call ahead to register.