LSU football coach Brian Kelly releases bald eagle, treated by the university, back into the wild

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — College coach Brian Kelly is used to managing the Louisiana State University Tigers, the school's beloved football team, but on Friday he was face to face with a bald eagle.

Standing on a levee along the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge — about a mile from the famed LSU Tiger Stadium — Kelly released the once-injured eagle back into the wild, after it had been treated by the university's veterinary medicine's wildlife hospital for three months.

The bird, whose wingspan stretches 5 feet (1.5 meters), swiftly leapt out of its cage with Kelly exclaiming, “She's heading toward the stadium” — a good omen for the upcoming season, he proclaimed. The Tigers went 10-3 last year, with the 2023 Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Jayden Daniels, leading the team.

Kelly, who was hired by Louisiana State University in 2021, is the school's first football coach to release a bald eagle. The Southeastern Conference powerhouse said he has a special connection to the college's vet school, with his daughter being a graduate assistant there.

The eagle, which is presumed to be a female based on its size, was brought to the university for treatment in October after it was found with a fractured bone that is necessary for flight and dehydrated.

Mark Mitchell, a professor of zoological medicine at the University, said the bird was likely injured after being hit by a car in the Baton Rouge area. For the past few months faculty members and students have treated the unnamed bird, providing food, performing medical tests and preparing her for flight.

Now, back in its natural habitat, the eagle may try to find its mate, could migrate as far north as Illinois or may stick around in Louisiana.

Eagles are often seen in Louisiana, migrating to breed and nest. South Louisiana's marshes provide an abundance of food and shelter for the birds.

Since 2009, the bald eagle population in the United States has quadrupled in size to 316,700, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.