When Oklahoma State Game Warden Michael Taylor left for his rounds on Monday morning, he was ready for anything.
As a game warden, he needs to expect the unexpected when patrolling Oklahoma’s backroads, lakes and wild lands. So when he came across a bald eagle struggling in the dust near the banks of Temple Lake in Southwest Oklahoma, he leapt into action.
“I put him right into the cage. He was so given out, he was ready for help,” Taylor said.
It was only the second time Taylor had come across an injured bald eagle during his time as a game warden. He called up his lieutenant, who referred him to Wallie Breaden.
Breaden has dedicated his life to the care of wildlife. Together with his late mother, Yolande, he founded Breaden Wildlife Rehab in 1973.
When he got the call, Breaden went to work preparing for the bird’s arrival. He gathered up some fish for the bird and set up a small space south of Lee Boulevard where he was working on another project.
When Taylor arrived, Breaden knew right away the bird was in trouble. For what he estimated to be a 5-year-old male eagle, it was malnourished and underweight.
“He’s skinny to the point that I’ve got concerns about it,” Breaden said.
With steady hands and years of practice, Breaden gently pulled the tired bird from its makeshift enclosure and began to examine it for broken bones or scabbing.
“His wings seem to be in good shape,” Breaden said. “Weight loss is the real problem. As for that, it could be caused by any number of things. He could just be a bad hunter, though he is likely about 5 years old. Could be lead, we’ve had lead problems before. He could have eaten game that had lead in it. The fact that he’s so dirty says he’s been down for a few days.”
Lead poisoning could have kept the bird sick enough that it couldn’t eat, according to Breaden. Though there is no guarantee this is the case.
“Doesn’t feel like anything is broke. Once we get the X-rays back, we will know for sure. His next step is the vet,” Breaden said. “ After we get him checked out, I’ll find a rehabber that has the facilities to house him. Once we get him helped out, and get his weight back up, then he will be kicked free.”
As far as symbols go, they don’t get much more powerful in the United States than the bald eagle. The bird has served as our national symbol since 1782, and its journey from near extinction in the middle of the 20th century to remarkable recovery in the 21st century endures as an ideally American story.
As Breaden loaded the eagle into its crate, it peered back at him with curiosity and caution. It’s a look Breaden said he has seen thousands of times before. A look of understanding.