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Miracle baby eagle survives Eagle Mountain wildfire

Published: Saturday, July 7 2012 3:22 p.m. MDT

OGDEN — An infant golden eagle is recovering after miraculously surviving last month's Dump Fire near Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs.

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.

Wildlife officials have named the eaglet Phoenix.

Kent Keller had banded the eagle 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, about 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," said Dalyn Erickson, 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.

Those at the rehabilitation center say it's a mystery why the baby eagle wasn't cooked alive during the massive fire. His flight feathers, which were still growing, have been completely melted down to within an inch or two of his wing and tail. The only thing that seems to have saved his life was the insulation offered by his down feathers and thick body.

"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.

Phoenix also suffered burns on his feet and mouth, but his eyes were left unharmed. He is extremely underweight at just over 5 pounds, but has had a good appetite, according to Erickson.

"He is a prickly, 'stabby' pin cushion with all of those melted feathers, and if he survives his first few weeks he will still have to go through an entire body molt which will not happen until this time next year," Erickson said. "It is nothing short of a miracle he survived."

With crossed fingers and a bit of luck, Erickson is hopeful that Phoenix will "rise up from the ashes to take his first flight and from there, go on to be a wild bird again.

"He is the perfect poster child for this mostly man-caused fire season."

Twitter: @FinleyJY

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