Most of the time, our patients are brought to us in a small shoe box or a little crate. Songbirds, small mammals, and even owls are usually scooped up by a caring passerby and brought to us, ready for examination and treatment. Sometimes we get calls for extra help. There are some patients that require a search party of sorts, or need a skilled restrainer for a safe capture. This is the story of one of our most recent Bald Eagle patients, and how he came to arrive at our Center.
Claudia Benfield, who is trained in eagle restraint and is a dedicated volunteer at Chintimini Wildlife Center, writes about the adventure she and her husband had while they attempted (and succeeded!) to rescue a Bald Eagle:
“Finally. After patiently waiting for six years, I got to rescue a Bald Eagle. This was my first eagle rescue and I am so thankful to have had the help of my husband, Tim. It was through some awesome teamwork that we were able to rescue the young Bald Eagle.
I got the call that there was an injured eagle in Halsey, OR. I was told I would have to ride a four wheeler in order to get to where the eagle was located. I really didn’t want to believe that one…I did invite my husband to help ensure we would successfully rescue this eagle. We rushed over to Halsey and rode about a mile off the pavement on the back of a four wheeler to where the eagle was. At one point the terrain was so rough that we had to get off the four wheeler and walk! When we arrived at the site we found that the eagle was down a 10-15 foot embankment on Lake Creek. Of course, a creek… then the real adventure began.
Right away, Tim went down the embankment to try to get to the eagle. The eagle on the other hand, had something else in mind. Even though he was very weak and had been in the same spot for over a day, this eagle would not easily be caught despite his injuries. As Tim got closer, the eagle started hopping away. Tim followed him down the creek, having to make his way through some very tall brush and even falling into “stinging nettles.” Ouch! Those really hurt! I felt so bad for my husband. Meanwhile, I was running around trying to find a more accessible path to head off and corner the eagle with Tim on the other side. I did find a path but the water was too deep and the eagle was getting really far downstream. The farmer offered to drive me on the four wheeler to the other side of the creek, about another mile around. By the time I got to the other side, Tim had cornered the eagle against a dam of some type. There they were, eagle partially in the water trying to rest on a small branch and my husband – waist deep in murky water and thick mud right next to him. I immediately took off my socks and shoes and started going in the creek too. I was up to my knees in seconds and knew that this was not a good choice. I figured if my husband was up to his waist, I would be up to my neck in mud and water with an eagle in my arms.
I got out and ran over to the other side of the dam and got on top of it. All I could think of was, “there’s going to be a hole somewhere that I will fall through”… I took a few steps feeling for weak spots on the dam but didn’t find anything. We were able to get a towel on top of the eagle to make sure he wouldn’t get away again. The towel was sopping wet in seconds. With the eagle sinking from the weight and my husband getting deeper in the mud, he carefully and quickly lifted the heavy eagle up to me on top of the dam. My training instantly took over and I quickly grabbed the eagle – wet towel and all. It was when I turned around with the eagle secure in my arms that I took one step and found that hole. Down I went! I was now through the dam, eagle inches away from my face and my feet in a dam built by who-knows-what other wildlife. So many thoughts rushed through my head: from hoping the eagle wouldn’t tear my face off to thoughts of “please don’t let there be a nutria or beaver to bite my foot off.” I was also hoping my fall didn’t further injure the eagle (it didn’t). I don’t know how he did it, but my husband was out of the water in seconds and was pulling me up and out in an instant. He didn’t even lose a shoe! So now we were all safe – muddy and stinky, but in one piece and with a rescued eagle in tow. It is always astounding at how these injured eagles still have so much strength! It takes all of my strength to keep control of eagles, even when they are sick. This eagle was very spunky even though he had been out on the embankment of the creek for over a day.
Now we had to think of how to get the eagle back to civilization…
One of the farmers had a four wheeler with a small trailer on the back. So , I got on the trailer and my husband had to push me (with the eagle in my arms) to the back of the trailer so we wouldn’t tip. On we went, with a spunky Bald Eagle on top of me, on this rough terrain and back to the car where I had a cage waiting. When we arrived to the car, my husband had to pull me off of the trailer too… By this time we had gotten the wet towel off of the eagle and had a sheet over him to lessen his stress. After I put him in the cage, I could see his relief. First, at not being in my arms anymore and second, just being somewhere he could finally rest – alone. I did cover the cage in a sheet to keep him quiet in the dark which he seemed to like. It was such a harrowing ordeal for the eagle that I even felt the need to wait about 10 minutes before I took him on the ride to the clinic which was maybe 30 to 40 minutes away.
When I got to the clinic, it was more obvious how very stinky we both were from the murky water. I did get to hold him again as the Animal Care Director examined his injuries and wrapped his wing. X-rays would need to be taken the next day in order to see the extent of the damages to his body. There was a point during the examination where I could feel how very tired we both were. As I sat with him, at moments I almost felt like I could even fall asleep with this eagle in my arms. Even though I relaxed a bit, I still knew that he could let me know he was not happy in an instant! I never forget they are wild animals, that’s for sure. It just felt good to relax with a Bald Eagle in my arms for once. Not many can say they’ve done that. But afterwards, my arms were so weak from holding the eagle for so long that it was hard for me to hold my phone up for awhile! This is how strong they are – I just can’t imagine how strong they are when they are completely healthy!
When we were done with the rescue, we looked up to see there was even a rainbow after the rescue was completed…”
Patient Update: We are sad to report that Bald Eagle patient #18-0371 had to be humanely euthanized, as his injuries were determined to be too severe for a successful recovery. It is a bittersweet ending to an adventurous rescue – we never like to have to euthanize, however we are grateful for the ability to be able to relieve suffering. We thank Claudia and her husband Tim for their whole-hearted commitment to the well-being of the eagle.