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Bald eagle named Christmas released back into the wild at Crane

A bald eagle is released from captivity at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center Tuesday.

(Devan Ridgway/WTIU)

Christmas finally came to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center Tuesday.

Six weeks after being found injured on the base by workers, a female bald eagle, dubbed Christmas, was released back into the wild at Lake Gallimore on the south side of the complex.

“I look over to my right and see another eagle nest, and there’s two eagles up there above the nest,” wildlife rehabilitator Robert Lang said. “So, it’s got a good area to go to. It should be OK.”

After the bird was found, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources was contacted, and they took it to Vincennes, where Lang and his wife, Joanne, have been nursing wildlife back to health for the past 48 years.

He said they’ve had almost 30 eagles bought to them over the years.

“Over half have been released back to the wild,” Lang said. “We put some in sanctuaries, we’ve got some in the Detroit zoo, the Evansville zoo, just different locations.

“But if they come in so messed up, we have to euthanize them. We’ve had some that have been poisoned, they’ve been shot, hit by cars.”

Fortunately for Christmas, she only had about a 1 1/2-inch puncture wound in her chest and an infection in her left wing.

“The DNR guys that works here said there’s two active nests up here,” Lang said. “So, it could have been fighting over territory or whatever.”

The eagle was given antibiotics and nursed back to health inside a 12-foot-high cage over the next 52 days. And when Christmas was ready, she was delivered back to Crane, where there are nesting pairs at Lake Gallimore and Lake Greenwood.

“We’ve got a great place for eagles here,” said Brady Miller, the Natural Resources Manager at Crane. “We’ve got some lakes like this and some good habitat for them.”

Miller said they’ve had two nesting pairs of eagles at the base since the mid-1990s, when they migrated from Lake Monroe. Eagles were re-introduced to the state, including at Lake Monroe, beginning in 1985.

Bald eagles were listed as endangered in 1978 due to habitat loss and the effects of the pesticide DDT. But thanks to the banning of DDT and conservation efforts, the bald eagle was removed from the list in 2007. According to the DNR, there are now more than 350 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state.

“It’s certainly been a success story for the nation and for Indiana to be able to have as many eagles as we have,” Miller said. “It’s pretty common to be able to see and eagle if you’re out and about.”

Making sure injured eagles can rejoin the wild is a labor of love for Lang.

“You’re hoping it makes it on its own after being in the wild, then in captivity,” Lang said. “You spend all that time and money and everything else to rehabilitate them.

“I spent time in the navy, my wife spent time in the navy, so it means a lot to us to be able to release it back into the wild.”

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