Injured bald eagle released back into wild going full circle for Mi'kmaq elder

An eagle was released by a Mi'kmaq elder Wednesday afternoon after recovering at the Atlantic Veterinary Collage in Charlottetown since March 31.

'This is my chance to say "See you later mom, it's good to see you again"'

Junior Peter-Paul, a Mi'kmaq elder who helped rescue the eagle was the one to release her. (John Robertson/CBC)

The bald eagle perched on Junior Peter-Paul's arm — no longer restrained under the overcast sky — looking him in the eyes.

"She doesn't want to go," Peter-Paul said and the gathered circle of friends and family chuckled in the open wheat field.

Peter-Paul lowered his arms and then brought them up along with the perched eagle. Up and down once more — counting one, two, three — and this time, the eagle lifted off and soared away over the field to find a new perch in the forest at the edge of the field.

A bittersweet end to a journey that has been a month in the making.

Eagle rescued near highway

Wade MacKinnon, manager of investigation and enforcement with P.E.I.'s Department of Justice and Public Safety, received the call about the injured eagle on March 31.

He has seen the number of calls involving bald eagles increase over his 33 years in wildlife conservation.

The eagle had recovered enough to begin flying in an enclosure at the AVC. (John Robertson/CBC)

Melissa Peter-Paul was waiting with the bald eagle when he arrived. She had stopped her car to avoid hitting the bird as it ran across the road near Bedford, P.E.I. 

She had also called her father, Junior Peter-Paul, who arrived at the same time as MacKinnon.

Together they were able to rescue the injured bird.

Wade MacKinnon says it 'was pretty special' to have Mi'kmaq elder Junior Peter-Paul assist with the eagle's rescue. (John Robertson/CBC)

"That was pretty special," MacKinnon said of the collaboration. "Usually the public will call us and we will deal with it and very rarely we would have hands on, but it was particularly nice to have someone from the Abegweit First Nation attend and take such a great interest."

'It felt like we knew each other for a long time'

Junior Peter-Paul, a Mi'kmaq elder, asked to carry the injured eagle to the provincial conservation officer's vehicle.

During that time, he felt a connection with his mother, who passed away 47 years ago when he was still a boy.

The eagle spent nearly a month recovering at the Atlantic Veterinary College before she was well enough to be released. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

"I had it in both arms, [her] chest and my chest together," Peter-Paul said.

"I was so excited my heart was beating fast, but after a few steps I could feel the eagle's heart calming down and I was calmed down. [She] would glance over, look at me once in a while, and it felt like we knew each other for a long time."

'The bird was pretty down and out'

The eagle was brought to the Atlantic Veterinary College where it was determined that it was over 5 years old.

"The bird was pretty down and out, being found on the side of the road for an unknown amount of time," said Dr. Dave McRuer, a wildlife health specialist with Parks Canada.

Dr. Dave McRuer says the bird is now '80 or 90 per cent' and is at the point that she will recover much faster in the wild. (John Robertson/CBC)

"She had a wing droop on the left hand side, which basically means that something was wrong."

Fractured bone, inflamed muscles

The female eagle was unable to fly. Veterinarians did an X-ray and discovered a fracture in a small bone in the tip of the wing. The muscles around the area were also inflamed.

"Over time, and medication and supportive care, the swelling went down and the fracture healed really quickly and now the bird has been flying around in our flight pen for the past three weeks," McRuer said.

Manager of Investigation and Enforcement for P.E.I. Wade MacKinnon shows the band before it's attached to the eagle. This will allow the eagle to be identified in the future (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

"I would say that she is back to 80 or 90 per cent of a normal healthy bird. She still does have a slight wing droop and a little bit of a wound on the wing but those are going to heal much more quickly in the wild than in captivity so we have elected to release her back to the wild today."

Wildlife health specialist Dr. Dave McRuer holds the eagle prior to her release. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

'Keep that circle strong'

So the time and place was set for Wednesday evening in a field near St. Bonaventure's Parish near Tracadie, P.E.I.

Members of the Abegweit First Nation formed a large circle in the field and joined in to say goodbye to the eagle.

A large group gathered for the eagle's release. (John Robertson/CBC)

"To me it meant the strength of our family circle," Junior Peter-Paul said. "Like the eagle would represent it. Every time you would see the eagle flying around the sky, it would be flying in a circle and that eagle is giving a message to the people down here on mother earth to form that circle and keep that circle strong."

Peter-Paul responded with a song and community drummers joined in to sing and play for the eagle.

Wildlife specialist Dr. Dave McRuer and Manager of Investigation and Enforcement Wade MacKinnon wait with the eagle before her release. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

MacKinnon and McRuer joined in the circle, keeping the bald eagle aside until the end of the song.

'A very positive story'

MacKinnon said that the population of eagles has increased steadily over the years, with about 75 breeding pairs currently on P.E.I.

The department gets several calls a year involving the bald eagle, but still the community gathered to see the female bald eagle released. 

Community members drummed and sang along as a part of the goodbye to the eagle. (John Robertson/CBC)
The eagle was banded before she was released. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

When the song and drumming came to an end, the eagle was brought out and handed back to Junior Peter-Paul to release into the air.

Junior Peter-Paul, a Mi'kmaq elder who helped rescue the eagle was the one to release her. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

"For me, I deal a lot with the illegal activity, people poaching, people breaking the law, this is a very positive story," MacKinnon said.

"We have great staff here at the veterinary college, great teaching hospital... A lot of times they don't get to see these animals and actually they are pretty surprised when they come in in the condition that it did, so it is a very positive story."

A final look was shared between Mi'kmaq elder Junior Peter-Paul and the eagle. (John Robertson/CBC)

An emotional goodbye

"It was good to see the community to see the eagle's journey," Melissa Peter-Paul said. 

But for herself, it wasn't all joy to see the eagle to take flight.

"Mixed emotions. I'm happy for her journey and then just realizing this will be the last time that I see her but she is where she belongs now and she is all better."

The female eagle stretched her wings and took flight from Junior Peter-Paul's arms. (John Robertson/CBC)

"It was kind of emotional too, to let it go," added Junior Peter-Paul. "Me growing up without my mom and then being next to her today was like oh wow this is my chance to say 'See you later mom, it's good to see you again, and I will be seeing you again.'"

The eagle didn't fly away at first, but eventually took off towards nearby trees. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

Eagles are in mating season right now and McRuer said there is still time this year for the released female eagle to find a mate and lay eggs.

MacKinnon said that if people do come across injured wild animals in P.E.I. to contact either Fish and Wildlife or the conservation officers with the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

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About the Author

John Robertson

Video journalist

John Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. He has been with CBC News for more than a decade, with stints in Nunavut, Edmonton and Prince Edward Island. Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @johnrobertsoncbc

With files from Jesara Sinclair