Posted by: Wild Instincts | October 27, 2011

Eagle Oct 16th

With just Mark & me covering animal care for Wild Instincts, the schedule can be challenging at times. When Mark was instructing at the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation class Oct 15-16, it meant I was THE person covering animal care and rescue. This time of year it’s not usually a huge problem because baby season is over for the most part. There is an occasional rescue, but one doesn’t usually have to be running full speed to cover extremely critical patients.

One of the jokes we have around Instincts is that people seem to call at the exact moment we are feeding an animal.  Generally at that moment, you grab whatever is handy to write on. This summer Mark would come inside carrying various pieces of lumber he had used as notepaper. Heather, our summer assistant, told me Mark got so many calls while bottle feeding fawns, she half expected to see him write a phone number on the forehead of a fawn.

So it was on that Sunday. With only a handful of patients to feed, I came in a little later on Sun, Oct 16th so I could get a
load of laundry done and on the line before heading in to Wild Instincts to take care of the few patients still in care.

It wasn’t until I had my hands full of an American Goldfinch’s breakfast that the phone rang.

It was the Oneida County Sheriff’s Dept. A gentleman had called about an injured eagle. I wrote the number down (on a piece of paper) and dialed. No answer. Not uncommon. People get all excited and go back out to check on animal, etc.  I dialed again. A
very excited gentleman answered. Four neighbor boys had seen an eagle, a BIG eagle, hit the water, while they were fishing from his shoreline.  The kids were extremely excited! I got more details about possible injuries, what it was doing, etc. He only had
information third-hand from boys in his words “10 on down to 5 years old”.

While I was questioning him, I heard the call waiting tone.  Again, we can go days without an animal call and then they have to call at the same time!

I told the gentleman as long as the bird was now safely on shore, I wanted to give it enough time to see if it was something as simple as it misjudged the size of a fish and miscalculations got it wet. It does happen from time to time and with the age of the witnesses and incomplete information I wanted to give it time to dry off and not rush in if it truly wasn’t in need of anything but an hour to gather itself. I told him if he could monitor it from a distance without disturbing it I would finish taking care of the animals I had to tend to and check back. He was to call if anything changed.

Then I hung up and called the number I had missed while talking to this gentleman. It was a parent of the four kids calling about the same eagle. He also had caught the kid’s excitement over this incident. I asked some more questions, but got more third hand info gleaned from very excited youngsters. Decades of talking to people in domestic animal care has given me certain “filters”. I can have two different callers tell me the exact samewords, but be able to discern what they really mean. Mark can do that with wild animal calls. I can filter wild animal calls to a degree, but not like Mark. He can get a pretty good mental idea of what the caller really means.

The parent told me it was no problem with monitoring from a distance. I spoke to each of the men one more time before I finished taking care of patients and we had decided there was more to it than a simple miscalculation.

I loaded up an eagle box, blankets and gloves. I didn’t throw a net in because I was told the eagle was on shore and I am currently in physical therapy for a rotator cuff injury. Swinging a net around isn’t something my physical therapist would condone at this time in my treatment.

When I arrived, there was the typical greeting party. The self-admitted senior had very thoughtfully arranged for the caretaker of his neighbor’s cabin to open the gate so I could drive right down to the shore.  The kids were all talking at once.

The senior and I headed out to where he had last seen the bird. The brush wasn’t super thick, but it was thick enough for us to overshoot where he thought the bird was. The eagle’s response was too jump into the water and wade out 4 feet from shore. The bird didn’t look good. The gentleman was nice enough to go back to his cabin and get a musky net. While he was gone, I
tried to quietly shoo the bird down the shoreline, back up onto shore or at least a little closer to shore without having to go in myself. The net arrived and even though the eagle did come closer to shore, it was clear despite very windy and chilly conditions, I was going to have to get wet.

I said as much to the gentleman and asked him how mucky it was where the eagle was. My exact words were “will I lose my shoes?” He told me to tie them tight.

After re-tying my shoes, I tentatively stepped into the water. It wasn’t as cold as I anticipated and the bottom was fairly solid. The
eagle had headed down the shoreline a bit so I trailed behind. It found a submerged stump to perch upon. I was grateful. I had hoped for an easy catch for the bird and because of my shoulder, quick movements can be excruciating for me. I was very grateful for both of us when I could slowly slip the net over the bird and walk up and calmly capture it.

The water isn't as cold as I expected

I waded back to shore with the eagle where the boys were only too happy to get a close-up look at “their” eagle.  I enlisted the help of the oldest to hold the handle of the net while I carefully extricated the eagle from the netting being very careful of its feathers and my gloveless fingers. Most people assume the eagle’s intimidating beak is the biggest threat.  In reality, its very powerful feet armed with very sharp talons are the first thing to watch out for!

very carefully gathering up the eagle so neither of us get hurt.

I got the bird out of the net, tucked under my arm and put a blanket over her head.  It was clear she did not feel well at all.

tucking in her wing and getting a proper hold for the walk back to the truck

The kids asked a ton of questions simultaneously on the short walk back to the truck. Is that the first eagle I’ve held? Do I do this
a lot? How do I get it to stay so still and not attack me? Can we touch it?

I think I answered all their questions. I tried to answer the ones I could hear through the din of simultaneous questioning from all anyway.

a very sick girl about to be placed in a transport box

At the truck I got the eagle safely tucked into the eagle box.  I handed the 2 different families each a newsletter telling them a little more about Wild Instincts and gathered a little more information for the required paperwork.

placing eagle in a transport box can bring new meaning to "face to face"

A parent had documented the rescue with her camera. I asked if she would mind sending me the photos because it’s hard for us to get photos of rescues because we’re doing the rescuing. She was more than happy to do so. (Thanks to Molly B, you can see these photos).

Then the oldest boy asked me to autograph his newsletter.

I was more than happy to oblige. They had done the right thing. They saw an animal in trouble and got it help. Too many wildlife
rehabilitators see animals in trouble at the hands of young boys “having fun”or “just being boys”.

It was a nice high. Rescue went well. New generation of animal lovers engaged. I had kept both my shoes.

It took me about 20 minutes to get back to Wild Instincts. I carried the eagle box inside with my shoes squishing water every step. I was hoping to get to do a quick exam, though in reality I wondered how much I was going to be able to do by myself with a bad shoulder.

When I took the eagle out of the box it was clear she was in bad shape even though her weight was good and she was fairly strong. The exam was going to have to wait. She wasn’t in any shape to undergo an exam at that moment. She needed to be dark and quiet and relax after her ordeal, even though by rescue standards it wasn’t all that bad. Yes, all rescues are stressful, but hers wasn’t anything extraordinary.

Within 10 minutes she was having grand mal seizures and shortly after died.

The high of the nice rescue and the excited kids turned into a very low sadness. Wildlife rehab has a lot of high highs and low lows.

I knew these boys would be checking on their eagle.  I sent a short e-mail explaining she had started seizing and died a short while after. Even though the outcome wasn’t what anyone wanted, the bird died warm and surrounded by the good thoughts. I
also wanted them to know they had done everything possible to help that bird.
The unhappy ending didn’t take away from the fact they did the right thing and should be proud.

The eagle was submitted for necropsy. When I first saw the bird in the water I thought she had that look of lead poisoning. Her weight and condition were pretty good, though, so acute poisoning of another toxin might be in play. It will likely be a long while before we hear the necropsy results due to a budget and staff constraints.

While we wait for answers on that eagle, we still rescue and treat whatever wild animal needs us-even if that means wading in cold water or signing autographs.

We hold onto the good outcomes and releases to get us through the ones we can’t save with outcomes we don’t understand or like.

You can bet the excitement on the faces of those boys will come to my mind to get me through the boy who comes in with his mom after she caught him with baby birds stolen from several different nests or the baby chickadee who “accidentally flew in front of my boy’s B.B. gun”.

We thank you all who help us help them.


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