I received a call the other morning reporting an injured Bald Eagle near Grundy Center. The folks reporting it are very regular walkers on the portion of the Pioneer Trail at the Wolfe Family Preserve east of town. I gathered up the equipment that I have come to know is necessary for eagle handling the double extra large dip net, heavy leather welding gauntlets and something to wrap the bird in. With those items in hand, I headed for the wildlife area.
I arrived and very easily located the bird. The woman who found it was standing off the trail a short distance waiving her arms for my attention and a short distance beyond her was the eagle.
I learned from the woman that it was standing on a fallen log when they first noticed it. In a few moments, it spooked and attempted flight only to land (crash) in the branches of a wind-fallen tree where it was now half hanging by its wings in the branches a couple of feet off the ground.
I generally have an old wool army surplus blanket that I wrap around birds in these situations but I don't have that anymore (it was lost in a skunk mishap that I wrote about in a column ten months back or so). Instead, I grabbed a well-worn sweatshirt from the shop and proceeded to use that instead. I spread the sweatshirt out on the ground and carefully got ahold of the bird. The wings seemed good, not out of joint and no broken bones were apparent. The eyes were clear another good sign. I placed the bird down on the shirt and gathered the sleeves around and tied them together in the back. I put another around as insurance. I had a rather "preppy" looking eagle at that point. But this way the head was exposed as it should be. Birds don't perspire so they cool themselves through the mouth similar to dogs panting. Covering the head prevents this and overheats the bird.
During this process, the eagle clamped down on one of my gloves with its razor-sharp taloned feet. I slipped the hand on out of the glove and let it keep the glove for its upcoming ride to the rehab for assessment. I carried the bird back to the truck and explained to the woman that this bird was a fully mature male eagle. I thanked her for her help and proceeded to call the wildlife rehab unit to report the bird and make the necessary arrangements.
I placed the eagle on the front passenger seat of my truck and snapped a picture for the fun of it. It is the first eagle that has ridden beside me to a rehab but I have enough experience with hawks and owls and eagles to know that they can wiggle their way out of things and I didn't want that happening with a six foot wing-spanned eagle in the cab of the truck if I could help it. I took the bird to a veterinary clinic in Waterloo.
This is not a two-part story like last week. I will finish it right here. It isn't a happy ending story either. The bird ultimately died of lead poisoning. Bald Eagles are scavengers and it appears that they occasionally pick up lead pellets from game birds lost by hunters and lead fragments from deer carcasses after gun seasons. As there are more and more eagles, it naturally follows that the incidence of this will increase. The bird was x-rayed and no pellets were found in the tissue indicating it had been shot so ingestion is the likely way it ended up in the system. The toxicology report showed a level three times higher than the amount necessary to kill the bird.