Found at a landfill in Savannah, Wassaw the bald eagle was a mess when she came to Oatland Island Wildlife Center in May.
A broken wing had healed improperly. She couldn’t fly.
And her former residence gave her a certain stench.
“When she came in she smelled like a landfill,” Mailler said. “We cleaned her up with some wet towels and when she was in quarantine (for a month before display) we misted her.”
One thing she wasn’t was skinny. Wassaw came to Oatland fat from feasting on people’s discards, presumably hopping from leftover to leftover. At 8.5 pounds she’s heftier than either the 6.5 pound Arnold or the 7-pound Francesca, the resident eagles she’s joined in the existing aviary.
“She’s a big girl,” Mailler said.
Still, she was a finicky eater at first, gulping down rats and fish but turning up her beak at a hamburger-like meat her keepers prepared, a puzzling preference given her previous home.
“I was like ‘Maybe we should put it in a McDonald’s bag,’” Mailler joked.
Wassaw, who’s named for the nearby barrier island, still wears her solid brown juvenile plumage, a signal she’s not yet 3 years old. She’ll gradually grow into her adult coloring with the iconic white head and tail. But for now, her juvenile plumage makes it easier for the adults in her new digs to accept her as not threatening.
“It’s gone fairly well,” Mailler said. There hasn’t been any fighting but there has been occupying of space.
It’s Wassaw, the newcomer, who’s ruling the roost. On Wednesday she looked down on her cagemates from high up in the nest box. Francesca will sometimes join her there, but not Arnold.
“Female eagles are known for being ornery,” Mailler said. “They don’t put up with a lot from males.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which issues permits for captive bald eagles, told Mailler that Wassaw, who will never be able to fly normally, would have to be euthanized if Oatland didn’t have room for her. That sealed the deal.
Francesca and Arnold have lived at Oatland since 1996 and 2000 respectively. Francesca has laid eggs annually for several years. They’ve been infertile, but her track record is a sign she could lay fertile eggs in the future. So could Wassaw once she matures, Mailler said.
Mailler finds the new bird a good complement to the old twosome.
“She has a calm personality compared to these two nervous Nellies,” she said.