Rescued baby golden eagle named 'Phoenix' sees miraculous recovery after wildfire injuries

The resilience of a burned baby golden eagle that survived a Utah wildfire is astounding wildlife rehabilitators nursing him back to health.

"The trauma and the injury and the situation he is in -- to come out of it is amazing," said wildlife specialist DaLyn Erickson.

All of the eaglet's feathers, even on his head, were charred. He also suffered burns to the feet and around his beak.

His improbable story began June 1, when a volunteer who documents eagles for the state placed a band on the bird.

The Dump Fire erupted three weeks later, burning more than 5,500 acres south of Salt Lake City. The volunteer returned to the nest, built on the edge of the cliff, thinking he would recover the band from a deceased animal, said Erickson.

The nest on Eagle Mountain was gone, the rocks behind it blackened by the blaze.

The volunteer then spotted legs and talons near a scorched juniper.

Amazingly, the baby eagle was alive. Near him were animal carcasses, evidence his parents had tried to feed him after disaster struck.

"He was standing. He was alert," said Erickson, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden. "All things considered, he looked incredible." Fortunately, the bird's eyes were not injured.

The bird remained in the area while the volunteer sought permission from federal and state authorities to obtain care for him.

On Wednesday, the volunteer handed the bird over to Erickson and her team.

There was no food in the craw of the dehydrated eagle, which weighed just over 5 pounds.

"He was lethargic and just obviously hurting," Erickson told CNN on Saturday. "After we got him hydrated and medications, he perked up and that fire came back in him."

Erickson said Phoenix, about 70 days old, was a handful Saturday, lunging and using his talons as caregivers fed and provided antibiotics to the animal.

"He's not grateful," she quipped.

Rehabilitators limit their contact with the eagle, which is being kept alone. They use hydrotherapy to help the healing in his feet.

"He needs those for hunting. There are lots of tendons and muscles we need to protect," said Erickson.

Golden eagles, which are protected, typically eat reptiles, birds and small mammals, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also are known to scavenge carrion.

It's too early to tell whether Phoenix will be able to fly. Rehabilitation will take at least a year and his feathers won't molt until mid-2013.

"We are fairly confident, but there could be follicle damage we do not know about that would prevent feathers from coming in," Erickson said.

The nonprofit center, which treats about 1,800 animals a year, is accepting financial and food donations to offset the cost of caring for the golden eagle.

"He is doing well and we are very positive about his outcome right now," said Erickson. "(But) these types of things can turn at any moment."

In her 12 years of wildlife rehabilitation, Erickson said, the eagle's story is among a few cases she considers "nothing short of a miracle."

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