BROOKSVILLE — For the second time in her 19 years, Florida Bald Eagle No. 512 was thrown into the wind, sent off again on Wednesday into a world that has been unkind.
The bird had spent the past three months at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, recovering from injuries she sustained last year in a fight to protect her nest in Palm Harbor.
A younger female eagle kicked her out in late November, held her to the ground, plucked her chest feathers and skewered No. 512 with dagger-like talons.
The usurper now has chicks with her ex-mate.
Whether the scarred eagle's maternal instincts will carry her back to the place where her latest troubles started is unknown, said Lynda White, Florida's Audubon Society Eaglewatch coordinator.
"She could fly home today," White said. "Hopefully, she won't."
White carried the blindfolded No. 512 in her lap for the drive from Maitland to the Ahhochee Hill Audubon Sanctuary, a preserve just outside Brooksville, on Wednesday afternoon.
David A. Bruzek, the lead environmental specialist with Progress Energy, was given the honor of throwing the eagle into the air. The company has been working with the society to make power lines safer for birds.
A crowd of more than 30 looked on as the eagle's leather blinder was removed. No. 512 nearly took a chunk out of Bruzek's chin with her beak.
Then, with a heave, he set her loose.
"Oh! Come on, get up! Get up!" a woman called from the crowd.
No. 512 clipped the branches of a small tree, then beat her wings and disappeared over the trees.
Flying over the woods around Brooksville may have been bittersweet for No. 512, if bald eagles felt such things.
It was near this same rural expanse that she was released back into the wild in 1998 after she had been shot with a bullet through her leg and wing two years earlier in Palm Harbor.
According to society records back then, the eagle's caretakers questioned whether she could be released and survive.
The hope is she will prove yet again to be as tough as eagles come.
"She's middle-aged, but hopefully she'll live for a long time to come," White said.
Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or firstname.lastname@example.org.