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5 bald eagles returned to the wild after being rehabilitated by Wisconsin conservation group

Once considered endangered, the birds have made a soaring comeback in Wisconsin

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An eagle is seen mid-flight close-up from the side.
An immature bald eagle is released into the wild Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Prairie du Sac, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

More than 100 onlookers gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in Prairie du Sac on a sunny January afternoon, vying for spots with the best view of five white crates.

Several people stand on a dock with cameras.
Onlookers prepare to watch the release of five bald eagles Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Prairie du Sac, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

They cheered as handlers opened each of the enclosures, setting free five bald eagles, which took off soaring over the Wisconsin River.

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Three people lean over kennels preparing to open the doors.
Members of Raptor Education Group, Inc., prepare to open the eagles’ enclosure doors to release them Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Prairie du Sac, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

A nonprofit called Raptor Education Group, Inc. had been overseeing the birds since last summer at a rehabilitation center in Antigo.

There, the eaglets had minimal contact with people.

“We have a couple foster eagles that are permanent residents that raised all of our babies for us,” said the group’s assistant director Audrey Gossett. “And they learn from them how to behave and what the proper mannerisms and all that sort of thing are for a wild bald eagle, so that we don’t imprint them on humans.”

An eagle is seen from the side as it flies. A large crowd holds up phones and cameras as they watch.
A bald eagle soars away as a crowd looks on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Prairie du Sac, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

Each year, the Raptor Education Group rehabilitates between 800 and 1,000 injured or orphaned wild birds that are native to Wisconsin, Gossett said.

About 100 of those birds are eagles, according to a Facebook post.

Light reflects off an eagle's feathers as it flies.
Five immature bald eagles were released into the wild Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Prairie du Sac, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

The Raptor Education Group typically releases bald eagles each winter.

That’s when the wild birds fly down to southern Wisconsin from Canada and more northerly parts of the U.S. in search of fish.

An eagle soars through the air. A hill and snowy landscape near a river can be seen in the distance.
An eagle soars off into the wild after being released with four others Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Prairie du Sac, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

“Eagles will typically migrate or congregate down in this area because of the open water,” Gossett said. “There’s a great food source.”

The federal government listed bald eagles as endangered until 2007, but their numbers have since rebounded in Wisconsin and across the country.

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