BENEZETTE – Members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Delaware-based Tri-State Bird Rescue and private citizens, including Andy and Kay Mattone of Tarentum, gathered at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette on Tuesday afternoon to witness the release of a golden eagle.
The eagle was believed to have been struck by a vehicle along SR 555 near Benezette in mid-October and was treated at the Tri-State Bird Rescue in Delaware. After a lengthy rehabilitation process, the eagle was finally healthy and ready to be released.
Doty McDowell, Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer for the Northcentral Region, noted that in his 16-year career he never previously handled a golden eagle.
"What was the eagle doing here? We're not sure. We get a lot of golden eagles that migrate through here from about mid-October to the end of November, so we suspect that's probably what it was doing," McDowell said. "We do have golden eagles that winter here, so I don't know if it's going to be a resident or if it's just going to head south as soon as it gets out of [the cage in which it was transported]."
The actual release took place in a food plot near the visitor center. After leaving the cage, the eagle flew to a perch on a nearby tree and stayed there for a few minutes before flying off.
McDowell credited Mattone and his wife with making the event possible.
"This is really kind of a neat day. We owe this day to Mr. Mattone. He's the gentleman that captured [the eagle] on Route 555 on the 15th of October. It was injured. He brought it here to the Visitor Center and dropped it off," McDowell said prior to the release.
Mattone explained that he and his wife had traveled to Benezette that day to see the new visitor center. After they left the center the couple drove to Driftwood, turned around and started back toward Benezette. Two miles from Grant they came upon backed up traffic and saw people standing around outside their vehicles. It was then that the Mattones noticed the golden eagle along the roadway.
"I told Kaye, 'Look at this, nobody is trying to help this bird. We've got to do something to help it,'" Mattone said. "I took an afghan out of the trunk of the car and I went behind the bird and threw the afghan over the bird and then I cradled the bird in my arms."
With Kaye driving the car and Andy holding the eagle, the Mattones decided to return to the visitor center. During the entire trip there, Mattone noted that the eagle never struggled.
"That bird was a perfect gentlemen. I really think that bird knew I was trying to help him. I really believe that," Mattone said.
Once they reached the visitor center, the Game Commission was contacted and McDowell arrived on the scene a short time later.
For more on this story, see the Nov. 24 edition of The Daily Press.