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Apr 27, 2022

An Intern's Experience: Soaring Hopes of Working with Eagles

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Dane County Humane Society's Wildlife Center intern Sathvik Nallagatla recounts his experience working with raptors.

I recently had my finger in a bald eagle’s mouth trying to get it to swallow its medications.

That’s not exactly a sentence I thought I’d be writing a year ago. Raptors were always a group of birds that fascinated me. The first raptor I worked with was a great horned owl at Willowbrook Wildlife Center who stared me down the entire time I cleaned its cage. Since then, I got some limited experience working around cooper’s hawks, barred owls, and red-tailed hawks. In my heart though, I hoped that my experience with raptors would eventually culminate in working with eagles. Little did I know I’d be practicing subcutaneous (SQ) fluid injections and oral medications on a bald eagle in just a few months.

I saw my first wild bald eagles after arriving in Madison for college. When I was scanning the trees along Lake Mendota, I saw a massive silhouette perched in a tree that I just knew had to be an eagle. Sure enough, it was the first of many bald eagles that I spotted on the Lakeshore path. Bald eagles quickly became one of my favorite birds to see at Lakeshore Nature Preserve with one bird in particular that I spotted quite a few times. They were are just such large and powerful animals that were are always a joy to watch.

In one of the first few weeks as an intern with DCHS's Wildlife Center, I watched a bald eagle exam with one of the staff. It was crazy to me how easily the staff caught, hooded, performed an exam, and gave medications to this very large and powerful bird. Quite honestly at that moment, I was thinking there would be no way I’d get close to that level of skill in raptor handling. Even after handling a cooper’s hawk and a red-tailed hawk for medications, I didn’t expect to get to the level of helping with SQ injections or oral medications and certainly not with a bald eagle.

Much to my surprise, Jackie Sandberg, Wildlife Program Manager at DCHS's Wildlife Center, told me one day that I would be giving a SQ injection to a bald eagle. She did help hold the leg, but I nonetheless went home that day a little in shock at the thought that I had just given an injection to an eagle.

A week or two later, Tessa Collins, Wildlife Center volunteer and former intern and staff member, was teaching Assistant Wildlife Rehabilitator Patrick Wang and me some raptor handling techniques when she asked me if I’d like to try holding an eagle for Patrick. As you can imagine, I was very excited and mildly terrified at the prospect, but of course, I said yes. Though the eagle supposedly only weighed 10 pounds, it felt like a whole lot more.

My final eagle experience as of writing this included attempting to give SQ medications and restraining an eagle’s head while giving oral medications. Though I did manage to get the hood on, hold the leg, inject SQ medication, and restrain the head, the eagle got free of my restraint before I could give oral medications.

Evidently, I still have a lot to learn when it comes to raptor handling, but I can definitely say I never expected to get to the level I am at now. I hope to help more bald eagles in the future since they have quickly become one of my favorite birds. I’m only halfway through my internship, and I’m excited to see how far I’ve progressed in raptor handling, among other skills. I can’t wait to see what I can do by the end of it!

Sathvik is one of two spring interns at DCHS’s Wildlife Center. He is a freshman student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison pursuing a double major in Zoology and Wildlife Ecology. Sathvik hopes to attend veterinary or graduate school and pursue a career in wildlife conservation.

PHOTO: Assistant Wildlife Rehabilitator Patrick Wang holds a bald eagle while Wildlife Rehabilitation Intern Sathvik Nallagatla administers subcutaneous fluids under licensed staff supervision.

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