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Scorched eagle survives wildfires

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah — An infant golden eagle is recovering after miraculously surviving Utah’s Dump Fire near Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs last month. 

A dark spot on a cliff face is all that remains of the male baby golden eagle’s nest after a human-caused wildfire burned more than 5,500 acres in the area just west of Utah Lake in late June. 

Kent Keller had banded the eagle, now known as Phoenix, for identification and tracking purposes on June 1. 

Six days after the fire, Keller returned to retrieve the band and gather data needed to close out the band information when he noticed the small eagle behind a burnt juniper, between 20 and 25 feet below where the nest had been. 

The eaglet had somehow miraculously survived. 

“The nest was completely consumed. There was nothing left of it. The cliff side was burned. For anything to live through that was outstanding,” Dalyn Erickson said, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. 

It took Keller another six days to obtain permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Division of Wildlife Resources to take the eagle out of the area so it could receive help. 

During that time one of the eagle’s parents continued to drop food to the youngster, but because of his injuries, the eaglet was unable to eat any of it, Erickson said. 

When the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center finally got Phoenix, they found his wings tattered by flames and his talons scorched. 

“The burns he sustained were to his face, to his head, to the underside of his wings, to his back, to his tail,” Erickson said. 

His flight feathers, which were still growing, have been completely melted down to within an inch or two of his wing and tail. 

Erickson said the only thing that seems to have saved his life was the insulation offered by his down feathers and thick body. 

With crossed fingers and a bit of luck, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center hopes that by late 2013 Phoenix will be able to take his first flight, and eventually be a wild bird again.