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Rosie the Eagle: A boat trip turns into a rescue mission on the barrier islands

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The Virginia barrier islands are ancient, solitary, and pristine. Over the years, some have tried to inhabit this place but the islands refuse to accommodate.  The sands shift, islands come and go – so it remains a natural wonderland where we, as humans, can only visit. It’s perfect.

So, we oblige the laws of nature and look forward to a boat ride out there a few times each year. Wide open water vistas reveal bird rookeries, sea turtles, dolphins (rumors of sharks), bountiful wildlife, all amongst a background of boat

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hum and delightful sea breezes.  If you go far enough, the Atlantic Ocean awaits. These islands are the last barrier to the wild, wide-open ocean. We anchor on one of the barrier islands for a walk or picnic. 

Exploring the marsh tributaries through the maze of green eel grass is another experience. The boat gently twists and turns through the natural waterways where time seems to stand still and the natural world is all you know.  You can feel like you are flying – like the seabirds that join us along the way.

It was on one of these trips that we had a chance to do something special: save a bald eagle.

We puttered by an old cabin and noticed a large bird sitting in the dock rafters.  It didn’t fly away.  The boat captain said it was a juvenile eagle, and it didn’t look well.  We circled around and rode by a few times and sure enough, it was in

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distress.  We sprang into action, immediately, calling friends & acquaintances until someone put us in touch with the The Wildlife Center of Virginia. We explained the situation and frankly – sat on pins and needles. What if they told us there is nothing we could do? We waited & listened while the Captain spoke. And before we knew it, they confirmed the coordinates and set a course for a rescue boat to come take a look at the eagle.

We went about our business, but all of us were still thinking about that eagle.  The following day we learned they were able to capture it and were optimistic that they could rehabilitate it. It had an injured wing, was dehydrated and malnourished, but not too far gone. Their quick-thinking and action truly saved the eagle. We learned all about how it works. At the Wildlife Center, they provide medical attention and physical therapy to injured or distressed wildlife with the goal of releasing the animals back into the wild. They nursed and rehabilitated HER daily.  They named the bald eagle Rosie after my sister, who was the first to spot the bird out in the marsh. 

This facility does great work. They provided us with regular updates and we were occasionally able to see Rosie through their Critter Cam during her rehabilitation.  We were pulling for her!

Finally came the news that she was going to make it, and there would be a release date soon.

On the day of her release, we were able to watch via webcam. She stood proudly in the large cage while the staff opened the door. It took her a second to notice that she was free.  She immediately darted for the opening and soared to the sky.

Rosie was once again free to live out her days soaring above the grand eastern shore.  We still think about her now and then, especially when we see an eagle in flight. 

The Eastern Shore is such a magical place in so many ways. Living alongside the water and wildlife, witnessing the natural rhythm of things in a beautiful place. It’s a truly special way of life.

Learn more about The Wildlife Center of Virginia at

Did you know? Eagle Fact: As a result of conservation efforts, the bald eagle population has risen from a mere 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to more than 71,400 nesting pairs and an estimated 316,700 individual birds in the Lower 48 today.