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Ozzie takes flight to freedom after 3-month rehab stint at CROW

June 24, 2015
By BRIAN WIERIMA ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

After exactly three months in rehabilitation captivity, Ozzie the bald eagle and Eagle Cam star, is back where he belongs - in the wild.

Ozzie took the very first flaps of his rehabilitated wing into the freedom of the wild early Wednesday morning (June 17) after staff from the Clinic of Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel opened up his crate and giving him a clear path back to his former life.

It didn't take but a second or two for the famous eagle to gain his bearings, as he almost immediately bolted into the air and flew directly to a patch of woods across the pasture located on the Pritchett Real Estate grounds in North Fort Myers, near the nest he and his co-star Harriet shared before he was injured.

Article Photos

It was clear sailing for Ozzie the bald eagle and Eagle Cam star, as he took flight directly to a familiar patch of trees, located near the nest he and Harriet inhabit.


"He knows those trees well," said Ric Pritchett, who is the owner of Dick Pritchett Real Estate and the property the nest resides on. "He has a tree there which is a hiding spot for him."

The morning was a "perfect" one for the highly-anticipated release of Ozzie, who was brought into CROW exactly three months ago on March 17, with an injured wing.

It was determined the bald eagle suffered a broken clavicle to his left wing. But throughout his rehab stint at CROW, he was a perfect patient en route to his recovery.

"He was right on schedule on how long we would keep him with this type of injury," said CROW Senior Wildlife Rehabilitator Willow Bender. "He didn't injure himself in the flying enclosures and was flying well inside them. He was eating great and gaining weight, so we were able to send him back out fat and happy.

"Ozzie was a star student."

Not only did Ozzie receive an "A" in his recovery, he did his best to help another eagle in need, after CROW took blood from him for a blood transfusion June 9, to another injured raptor.

The eagle, which was transported from St. James City after being found on the ground in a weak physical state, unfortunately didn't make it after the transfusion.

"The amount Ozzie gave was just a drop in the bucket for him, he was in no danger at all," said CROW Hospital Director Dr. Heather Barron. "Unfortunately, the other eagle was just too weak to survive."

Ozzie wasn't in as bad as shape as that, but he was not in good enough shape to survive his broken clavicle on his own. Without the rehab at CROW, Ozzie would not be flying around free today.

"His original injury was his biggest challenge, because the bone was badly broken and misplaced," Barron said. "Surgery was not the way to go, because it would have caused too much damage to the soft tissue.

"Studies have shown that it is better bandaging the wound than performing surgery. He did heal well with that method."

The clavicle bones started knitting well in Ozzie and by April 14, a callus had formed connecting the two breaks together. He was eventually moved outside into the smaller flying enclosure, where he maintained a healthy appetite and a regiment to start building his strength back up in his wing.

The next big step was being moved into the large flying enclosure on the CROW grounds, where he was able to fly from perch to perch, while keeping his appetite up, thus proving a reduction in stress, despite living in captivity during the rehabilitation.

"He has been in a large flying enclosure and flying well," Bender said. " I was giving him his space and he was going from one perch to the other perch well. We kept an eye on his wing droop, so it has been a holding pattern the last two weeks leading up to his release."

Now it's back to his life of starring on internet cam, along with his partner, Harriet.

Hopefully, that is.

Ozzie and Harriet's journey into internet fame started three years ago, when they moved their nest to the Pritchett's pasture, which is occupied by their herd of horses.

Pritchett was running internet cable to his office and realized he had electricity hook-up capability 50 yards away from the nest.

"That's when I decided to put a camera up and see what would happen," Pritchett said.

What happened was 40 million views three years later and the start of international fame for the two bald eagles.

"People are really into it," Pritchett said. "It started exploding the day we put it up."

With help from his family, including his daughter who works in social media, the Eagle Cam site is a regular visit for literally thousands of people from around the world a week.

"It sounds very simple, but it's very high tech, and without the family support of my sons and daughters, and son and daughters in law, it could never happen," Pritchett said. "It's as close to reality television as you can get."

When word got out that Ozzie was injured and was brought to CROW, the animal rehab clinic found out exactly how famous the eagle duo was.

"On our Facebook page, we can look and see where people are commenting and looking from, and they are from all over the world, like Japan and Australia," said CROW marketing manager Kenneth Howell, earlier in Ozzie's rehab (April 1 issue of The Island Reporter). "It's helped with our donations, as well. A lot of people knew of CROW, but didn't know what CROW did. They didn't know we treated these animals and released them back out into the wild and that we are strictly non-profit."

It's been a steady stream of positive exposure for CROW since rehabbing for Ozzie started. Donations have increased dramatically after Ozzie came to CROW, with Pritchett Real Estate Eagle Cam giving $5,000 to the facility the morning of the eagle's release.

"There was a lot of thankfulness that there was a facility like CROW so close and in Southwest Florida to bring Ozzie to," Pritchett added.

Since Ozzie and Harriet started nesting on the Pritchett property, they have raised four eaglets, with a couple of them returning occasionally, but received with a quick sendoff by the parents.

The next step for Ozzie will be his transition back into the wild, like being able to feed and defend himself. The next concern after that, will be hooking back up with Harriet in the nest and rekindle what they had before his injury.

"Previous studies have shown these birds with this type of injury will survive post-release, sometimes for many, many years," Dr. Barron said. "So we feel fairly confident he has the ability to feed himself, but we don't know if he still has the ability to defend his territory and have a mate. Those things remained to be seen."

One unique aspect of having a cam in the nest is the CROW staff's ability to record the progression of Ozzie, if in fact he is able to return with Harriet.

"So often is the case in rehab medicine, we release the patient and have no idea what happens to them," Dr. Barron said. "Being able to have that information (post-release) is very valuable to us. He does have a federal band on and if he does go down somewhere, and if found, we will at least know it's Ozzie."

Apprehension was high for all involved of Ozzie's release, but once he took flight with a healthy wing, much relief was had.

"It was awesome," Bender said. "I was a little nervous, because it was a big flight for him to takeoff the ground and up. But he did wonderfully."

"It's just a tremendous relief," Dr. Barron added. "We are very happy he did not injure himself and there were no complications during the release. Any step along this process, there's potential for injury or complications, but Ozzie did well with that."

With a healthy and eager Ozzie back in flight over the Pritchett grounds and his physical ailments hopefully behind him, now it's time to mend fences from his disappearance with his other half - Harriet.

And you can bet millions of eyes will be watching on that one too!



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