A golden eagle took to the sky in San Ramon on Friday after eight months of rehabilitation for a severe mite infestation, an East Bay Regional Park District spokeswoman said.
Bird handlers released the young female eagle back into the wild Friday morning at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness after taking blood samples and outfitting it with a GPS transmitter, according to park district spokeswoman Emily Hopkins.
For the past eight months the eagle has been at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine where it was treated for an infestation that left the bird covered in severe lesions and without plumage on its head, belly and legs, the spokeswoman said.
The eagle was captured last summer after an independent researcher photographed it flying in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area near Livermore. Noticing that the bird was in bad shape with missing feathers and patches of bare skin, he notified East Bay Regional Park District wildlife biologist Doug Bell, who assembled a team of eagle experts that made the decision to trap the bird.
Veterinarians at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's teaching hospital provided months of treatment for the eagle while it recuperated at the school's California Raptor Center.
"This was a rare case and the degree to which this bird was affected must have been quite painful," said Michelle Hawkins, director of the California Raptor Center. "The mites caused severe lesions and crust, up to an inch thick in places, as part of the inflammatory process."
Mite infestations that affect a bird's mouth and legs make it difficult for it to capture and eat its prey, and feather loss can affect its ability to fly and leave it vulnerable to hypothermia, she said.
The bird is the only mite-infested golden eagle out of several found in California to make a recovery, according to Hopkins.
"This was a collaborative agency effort to save this golden eagle and possibly others, which are paramount to California's sensitive ecosystem," said Krysta Rogers, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We are very hopeful this infestation is just one of a few isolated cases."
The golden eagle is a large bird of prey most commonly found in western North America, according to the California CDFW.
Anyone who sees a bird that looks like it might be affected by mites or is not in good condition to fly should call their local CDFW office. A list of regional offices can be found online.