More than 150 miles in a truck and eight weeks of rehab all led up to one special day for Diablo, the immature bald eagle. He was found ill and flightless on Sqaw Beach late September and was transported to Gladstone for rehab with Randy Bruntjens. Sunday, Diablo returned to Big Bay for his big release back into the wild.
"I think he's going to do great; he was a real strong bird in the flight cage," said Bruntjens.
The release spot: the scenic Big Bay Lighthouse. A beautiful location for a beautiful bird, within two miles of where Diablo was discovered. Bruntjens says releasing Diablo back where he was found gives him a better shot of survival.
He says there's about an 80-90 percent probability that Diablo will find his family again. Just a few moments after his release, he'll call out to his relatives.
A few surprised lighthouse visitors gathered to cheer Diablo on as he eagerly flapped his wings, then the powerful moment came when he was released.
"Just the way it was ready to be back where it came from," said Justin Ilbrink, an NMU student who witnessed the release. "It was just an amazing bird, and just being able to see it in person was just absolutely amazing."
Diablo took off without a hitch and seemed to disappear into the lake's horizon. Then, a final farewell: an almost symbolic one last circle around the U.P. Raptor Rehab team.
"It almost seems like just about every eagle that's been released lately, it's like they almost come back and thank you," Bruntjens said.
The Raptor Rehab has two more eagles they're nursing back to health: one, missing an eye, will be placed at a zoo; the other, he hopes he can release just like Diablo.