Bald eagle comes to live in Largo park

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Most people have seen pictures of the nation’s symbol, but getting up close and personal to a bald eagle is an uncommon experience.

That’s about to change.

A bald eagle named Sarge has come to live at the Narrows Environmental Education Center. The center is at George C. McGough Nature Park, 11901 146th St. N, Largo. Sarge is scheduled to make her debut appearance at an unveiling Wednesday night, rain or shine.

Sarge, who weighs about 11 pounds and is estimated to be about 7 years old, was found near death in Tennessee. She was sent to the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri.

Largo Parks Superintendent Greg Brown said officials believe she was scheduled to be released back into the wild until caretakers discovered that Sarge suffers from a primary feather disorder. The primary feathers are the long ones that allow birds to fly. Trouble is, Sarge sheds her feathers too quickly. The rapid molting makes her look a bit ratty. More importantly, it means she’s unable to fly, so Sarge is classified as permanently disabled.

The disability means she can’t be set free, but Sarge won’t be standing around in a cage all day. She’ll be a teaching eagle, Brown said, and will be taken places, such as schools, so kids and others can learn firsthand about bald eagles.

She’ll also be used in the park’s Ava program. The Ava program is directed at disabled veterans, particularly those with emotional scars from their war experiences. The program pairs a veteran with one of the park’s owls. Some veterans take the owl on a walk around the park. Others simply sit quietly with the owl. The healing comes from the companionship between man and bird.

Sarge is not glove-trained, and the veterans aren’t eagle trained, Brown said. So Sarge’s contribution to the Ava program is likely to be one of demonstration rather than providing a hands-on experience.

McGough is also known as “turtle park” for its abundant aquatic turtle population. In addition to its display of owls, reptiles and amphibians, the park also houses community gardens. It’s most recently been featured in the movie “Turtle Tale,” which is based on a true story of JR the lost owl that took place in McGough.