For two weeks Lightning has been sending Patricia Fisher, the woman who nursed her back to health, a wordless message.

It’s time to let her go.

Lightning, a bald eagle, was severely injured in June of 2005 when the tree holding her nest in Waushara County was struck by lightning and started on fire. Lightning and another young eagle dubbed Thunder were badly burned.

Thunder was released a year ago. Lightning will be released late Saturday morning at the Petenwell Dam east of Neceda on the Wisconsin River.

It’s a day of mixed emotion for Fisher, who at 71, has been a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator for 21 years. Her Feather Rehabilitation and Education center in New London tends to about 100 birds each year. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources license the center.

“It’s a sad day and a good day. When you care for them you become part of who they are,” Fisher said.

DNR Warden Dave Algrem in Wautoma found one of the eagles on the ground. The second one came down with the nest after firefighters chopped the tree down to put out the blaze. Algrem placed them in a box and took them to Fisher.

“They were a mess when they came to me. Their feathers were absolutely annihilated. You could see the exit wounds on their feet where the lightning left their bodies,” Fisher said.

The first two weeks of rehab were intense as Fisher applied medication and bandaged their feet. After that she purposefully had minimal contact with the birds. That improves their chances of surviving in the wild once the rehab is complete, Fisher said.

After the wounds healed it was simply a waiting game to see if the feathers would grow in. It turned out to be a long wait for Thunder who was released a year ago. She lived only three months. She died of a spinal injury, but she was found 75 miles from where she’d been released and had gained two pounds.
Fisher was not sad.

“She died outside doing what eagles do,” she said.

Lightning’s wait for freedom has been longer. She’s finally ready.

Throughout the rehab Fisher has kept an eagle eye on Lightning.

“She’s on camera. I’ve been watching her. The last two weeks she’s been flying continually. She’s been telling me ‘You’ve got to get me out of here,’” Fisher said.

Several volunteers will accompany Fisher to the Petenwell Dam this morning. They expect to arrive between 11 a.m. and noon. Lightning will be released where there is a food source and other eagles.

One of the volunteers will toss her skyward.

“The rest is up to her,” Fisher said.