Surgery next for bald eagle with life-threatening injury; he’ll look like ‘he’s wearing a hair piece’

An injured Nebraska bald eagle whose wound initially baffled experts is scheduled for surgery this week.

The bird is set to undergo a skin graft Friday at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, about two months after he was found near Syracuse, Nebraska, with a scab-like mark on his head.

Dr. Coleen Stice, an Omaha plastic surgeon helping treat the eagle, examined the bird Monday and said he is still very sick, and the wound is still potentially deadly.

Stice said that during Friday’s surgery she will remove feathered skin from the bird’s inner leg and attach it to his head. Without feathers, the bird would suffer dangerous sunburn.

But the new feathers will be brown, not white. Stice joked that it will look like “he’s wearing a hair piece.”

Stice, a volunteer at Fontenelle Forest, is providing the medical care at no charge.

Raptor experts were initially puzzled over what caused the wound.

But Stice determined several weeks ago that the injury was caused by some type of electrical burn, which destroyed the soft tissue on top of the bird’s head, along with two layers of bone. There is now just one thin bone layer covering the eagle’s brain.

On July 16, Stice removed the scab, consisting of dead bone, during a 30-minute procedure at the zoo.

The bird was first cared for at Fontenelle Forest’s Rehabilitation Center near Elmwood. Molly Mullen, spokeswoman for Fontenelle Forest, said the zoo is better equipped to change the dressings on the eagle’s head and prepare him for surgery, so he was moved there.

She said it has cost about $600 to care for the bird since the rehabilitation center got the eagle two months ago. The figure would be much higher if Stice hadn’t provide her expertise for free, Mullen said.

Fontenelle Forest Raptor Recovery is starting an online fundraising effort for the eagle’s continued care and for other injured raptors. Visit fontenelleforest.org to donate.

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