Des the Hungry Wedge-Tailed Eagle

Jan 7, 2020 | Wildlife

Furry, scaly or feathery, we treat all types here in our hospitals. And it’s not just dogs that bite off more than they can chew. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat has a regal resident of the feathery kind – a 20-year-old “Wedgie” by the name of Des.

Fun fact: Wedge-tailed eagles are Australia’s largest raptors and this magnificent bird of prey was a wingspan reaching up to a whopping 2.5 metres!

Des a wedge tailed eagle at Animal Emergency Service Carrara

Des the eagle as landed

In March 2019, Des was brought into our Carrara hospital by a concerned Mark (Des’s carer) after he ate a little too much roughage of the wrong kind. Ten day prior, Des had gobbled up two jesses – the leather straps that tether an eagle to the handler’s glove. This was not an isolated incident. Des had a reputation for taking a liking to his jess, but on previous occasions he had managed to bring it back up himself a few days later. This time however, Mark grew worried as the week progressed with little evidence of it reappearing. The hungry wedgie was still managing to eat, but had lost a bit of weight already.

Des a wedge tailed eagle during surgery

Wedge-tailed eagles are exceptional hunters. They usually eat small mammals such as rabbits, feral cats, wallabies, possums, foxes (even the odd lamb), and reptiles like snakes and lizards. Why Des wanted to devour not one but two solid leather straps instead is anyone’s guess!

Dr Anya found Des to be relatively alert and aware, and not at all ‘fluffed up ‘ in appearance which can often indicate illness. Instead Des appeared normal, perching well on Mark’s glove.

Des in surgery with Animal Emergency Service Carrara vets

Treatment: how to recover the jess

X-rays showed only one leather jess sitting in the tail end of Des’s crop region. Dr Anya managed to remove it using an endoscope. As the sphincter is extremely muscular, this was a tricky process, taking quite some time to manipulate the rather large jess through it.

One of the recovered jesses

Unfortunately the other jess was nowhere to be found. Due to the increasing risks involved with prolonged anaesthetic, it was decided to wake Des up and see if he could bring it up on his own, as he’d done so before. Des recovered extremely well and happily fluttered back to Lamington National Park under the watchful eye of Mark.

We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the Traditional Custodians of the lands, waterways and skies across Australia. We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and Elders past and present.