MISSOURI VALLEY, Iowa — Raptor Recovery Nebraska's Omaha Chapter will release a rehabilitated juvenile bald eagle back into the wild Saturday at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.
The release will take place between noon and 1 p.m. near the visitor center.
It's a good opportunity for the public to observe a rare event, said Ken Block of the refuge.
“We don't do this on a regular basis at all,” he said.
Visitors should meet at the visitor center at noon. Denise Lewis, Raptor Recovery Nebraska's outreach coordinator, and volunteer Randy Mays will present a short program on the bald eagle and raptor rehabilitation efforts before releasing the eagle.
The eagle is a juvenile female found with a broken wing last fall in the Grand Island, Neb., area, Lewis said. The bird suffered soft-tissue injuries, perhaps from running into something or being grazed by a vehicle.
“We needed to keep her this long because we needed to wait until there were quite a number of eagles ... at DeSoto, because she needs other eagles to help her in order for her to survive,” she said.
Adult bald eagles have a dark brown body and distinctive white head and tail. Juvenile bald eagles have mottled brown and white plumage, a press release from the refuge said. They gradually acquire the adult plumage as they mature, which takes about five years.
The refuge encourages visitors to use the heated interior galleries at the visitor center to view wildlife during the winter months.
Open water maintained outside the galleries often attracts ducks, geese and eagles. However, being at the right place at the right time is the key to observing wildlife, and there is never a guarantee that a visitor will see a bald eagle while at the refuge — except during a release.
“It really is hit or miss,” Block said. “If you're here at the right time, you might get to see an eagle close up, and you might even get to see an eagle take a duck.”
The refuge has only one nesting pair of bald eagles, he said, but many pass through the refuge during fall and spring migration.
“What you're seeing right now are wintering eagles — they're migrating eagles,” he said. “A lot of the eagles have gone through already. What eagles we have are really here because of the open water.”
Numbers tend to peak during the first week or two in March, Block said. During that period there are usually 25 to 40 eagles in the refuge at a time, but there were as many as 240 at one point last year.
An entrance permit is required at the refuge for all vehicles. The regular daily entrance fee for private vehicles is $3. Permits may be obtained at the pay stations near the entrances or at the visitor center. The charge for commercial vans and buses is $20, or $30 if 21 or more people are aboard. Annual permits, including the $15 DeSoto Refuge Pass, can be obtained at the visitor center.
DeSoto is north of Omaha along U.S. Highway 30 west of Missouri Valley.