Fontanelle Forest's Raptor Recovery Center of Elmwood released three wild birds of prey from captivity on a rainy morning on Sept. 18 at the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center in Nebraska City,  The birds, a bald eagle and two red-tailed hawks, had been in Fontanelle's care for some months. Because of its peculiar injury, and its status as our national emblem, the bald eagle has attracted special notice since it was found by fishermen on Memorial Day weekend near Syracuse. The feathers on the top of the bird’s head had apparently been burned off.
Betsy Finch, rehabilitation manager for the Raptor Recovery Center, described the injury as a “humongous black scab on the top of his head...(something) cut it down to the bone.” The best guess is that the bird (who has been named “Bolt” by his Fontenelle team) grazed against a power line.
Dr. Trenton Shrader, Henry Doorly Zoo veterinarian, and Fontenelle Forest volunteer Dr. Colleen Stice, a plastic surgeon, grafted skin from the eagle's thigh so that protective feathers could grow again. The feathers will not be white like the rest of his head, however, because the graft came from the bird's inner leg, where the feathers are dark. “He will have a mohawk,” one Fontenelle employee remarked.

There is optimism about Bolt's chances for a full recovery from his wound. Two weeks after surgery, the graft had “taken” about 90 percent.
The release of the birds after their rehabilitation at Fontanelle was planned for Nebraska City in hopes that Bolt might find his way back to familiar territory in the Syracuse area. According to Finch, such a flight might take him only about half an hour.
The honor of releasing the eagle fell to Chip Davis, founder of the music group Mannheim Steamroller. Wearing thick orange leather gloves extending to his elbows, Davis spoke to the clutch of reporters and TV cameras before the release.
“I've been involved with nature projects for quite some time…so nature has a very soft place in my heart,” said Davis, noting Mannheim Steamroller's “Concert for Yellowstone” tour a quarter-century ago.
That effort focused attention on Yellowstone National Park's resilient natural beauty after forest fires burned hundreds of thousand acres in 1988—nearly one third of the park. Mannheim Steamroller's tour raised $1 million for park restoration projects.
“When I was asked to be part of (the bird release), I was really thrilled,” Davis said. He described a previous experience with a wounded bird on his 150-acre farm in the Ponca Hills north of Omaha.
“My son, Evan, was involved in actually catching an owl that was caught in a fence,” said Davis, “and took the owl to the (Raptor Recovery) Center.”
After the immature great horned owl's wounds had healed, Denise Lewis, volunteer coordinator at the Center, brought the bird back to Davis for release on his farm.
Asked where he thought Bolt might go, Davis chuckled, pointed to the sky, and said, “I think he's going to go that way.”
With a shout of, “Ready, set, here we go—the national bird!” Davis flung the eagle into the air, to cries of delight from the crowd. Bolt swooped low into the dell, then arced gracefully upward to perch in a tree for a last look around before his return to a life of freedom.