Tarentum man rescues wounded golden eagle

| Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011

While driving down an Elk County road on Oct. 15, Andy Mattone had little idea he was about to save a majestic bird rarely seen in these parts.

A Tarentum resident, Mattone and his friend, Kaye Crownover, also of Tarentum, had just visited the new Elk Country visitor center in Benezette when they began to see brake lights.

"Traffic was stopped both ways," Mattone said. "People were standing around looking at something on the ground.

"When I got out of my car, I realized it was a golden eagle."

The eagle was severely hurt.

"I told my friend, 'We need to help this bird,'" he said.

Mattone took an afghan from his trunk and threw it over the eagle, enabling him to pick up the bird and gingerly carry it to his car. Mattone said he used extreme caution, because golden eagles aren't used to being handled.

"These are very large birds with extremely sharp claws," said Brady Porter, associate professor of biological sciences at Duquesne University. "They certainly are not easy to handle."

With Crownover at the wheel and Andy holding the eagle in the passenger's seat, they drove the bird back to the visitor center — about 10 miles away — which began the bird's long road to recovery. The bird was handed over to state game commission personnel.

The game commission sent the bird to Penn State's University Park campus where, after three days of observations, a team of veterinarians determined it best would be treated at Tri-State Bird Rescue in Delaware.

There, surgeons repaired the bird's right breast and crop, a part of a bird's throat used to store food.

Slightly more than a month later, the bird was ready to be released back into the wild.

On Nov. 22, Mattone, along with two surgeons from the Tri-State Bird Rescue, were invited back to Elk County to release the eagle.

"It felt great," Mattone said. "To be able to see that bird fly again was truly special."

How the eagle was hurt is a fact disputed by Mattone and the game commission.

"The game commission told me the bird was hit by a car," said Mattone. "The vets from Delaware and I think differently."

Mattone originally thought the bird was attacked by a coyote, and that possibility has yet to be ruled out.

Mattone said the veterinarians told him the bird's wounds were round, like something had bitten it.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's online journal, golden eagles commonly are found in the western part of the United States. While the bird has been found wintering in the East, it is an extremely rare occurrence.

Less than 2 percent of golden eagles spotted in the United States are spotted in Pennsylvania.

According to Porter, golden eagles migrate through Pennsylvania during November.

"They're on their way from Canada to West Virginia and Virginia to stay for the winter," he said.

Mattone said the best part of his experience was never being left out on what was happening to the eagle.

"The state game commission called me with updates all the time," he said. "I was always in the loop."

Additional Information:

About the golden eagle


• Average wingspan: 6.6 feet

• Average weight: 11.25 pounds

• Average length: 30 inches

Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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