A young bald eagle soared high above the fields of tall grass just outside Winnipeg city limits, after being released Thursday afternoon by the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre.
"My favourite day on the job is always when we get to release animals," executive director Zoe Nakata said.
The eagle — who is not named, to refrain from domestication — was initially found by residents of Thompson, who contacted the local conservation office. The bird needed medical care, so officals arranged for a trucking company to transport the eagle to Île-des-Chênes, a small community in the Rural Municipality of Ritchot where the rehab centre is situated.
"When he did come in, we could see that he was weak and definitely dehydrated," Nakata said, adding the centre does not know the circumstances of how the eagle wound up in such a state.
A few weeks later, they felt the eagle was strong enough to fly the coop.
Aside from convenience, Nakata said the centre chose to release the bird in Île-des-Chênes because the eagle is at the age where it'll be looking for a mate and there's a healthy population of eagles in the area.
The feathers on a bald eagle's head turn white when the animal is about five years old. The eagle released Thursday still had mostly brown feathers, and was estimated to be two to four years old.
Nakata said the centre mulled sending the bird back to Thompson, but ultimately decided against it because of the toll travelling would take on the eagle.
On Thursday, Ritchot Mayor Chris Ewen and Rayne Delaronde, a supporter of Wildlife Haven, were event guests who had the honour of releasing the bird into the wild.
At D'Auteuil Park — in front of young children from the local daycare, adults, teens, and the volunteer staff from the rehabilitation centre — the green sheet that covered the bird's cage was slowly removed. The only sound was rustling leaves on swaying tree branches.
On the count of three, they opened the cage. But the eagle didn't leave.
Ewen and Delaronde had to unbuckle the top half of the crate, opening it up to the eagle. The bird paused for three long seconds before bounding while simultaneously stretching its wings.
A dozen flaps of its wings, and it was gliding towards the horizon.
Updated on Thursday, July 11, 2019 at 8:29 PM CDT: Adds photos