A bald eagle was rescued from the St. Johns River after it was spotted swimming in the river Tuesday night near the Florida Yacht Club in Ortega.
It was wet, exhausted, likely about to drown when an officer from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission saved it and brought it to a dock in San Marco.
He handed the bird over to Cindy Mosling, who quickly calmed it down. Mosling is the director and co-founder of B.E.A.K.S, an emergency bird sanctuary on Big Talbot Island that's home to hundreds of birds, including peacocks, an ostrich, an emu and more than six bald eagles. The sanctuary is where the eagle rescued Tuesday is now being rehabilitated.
The eagle's feathers were still wet Wednesday, and it was still being hand fed, but it was expected to be OK, thanks to the quick rescue. The true test was going to be in the first 24 hours, officials said.
"They're a symbol of the United States, and they're very precious to us," Mosling said of eagles. "It's sad that they can't hunt and feed and survive in the environment they're living in."
Mosling said she's saved more than 100 water birds, including Bald Eagles, pelicans, ospreys and gannets, from the river over the last few months. All have one thing in common.
"One thing they do, they all hunt and feed in the St. Johns River, and they've lost their natural waterproofing," Mosling said.
She said that's likely because the river is contaminated.
When a bird dives into clean water, the water just repels right off. But in contaminated or soapy water, the bird's feathers absorb it. It's as if the bird is wearing a wet blanket and can't get it off.
"A wet seabird is a dead bird," Mosling said. "They can't regulate their body heat, they can't hunt for food, and they'll eventually die of starvation."
"Something's wrong with the river, we just don't know what it is," Mosling added. "But these birds are all feeding in the river and they all have the same problem, we just don't know what it is."
Until the problem is discovered, Mosling said she'll continue to take in birds and hopefully nurse them back to health.