Conserve Wildlife Blog

Battling bald eagles land in tree

February 18th, 2015

Locals residents and wildlife enthusiasts partner to save lone survivor!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

A lesson I’ve learned in my short career working with endangered wildlife in New Jersey is that you always need to be prepared for the unexpected. You never know what tomorrow brings.

There is never too much gear you can have at your disposal. Luckily, for the surviving bald eagle that was rescued, local residents made it possible.

On Tuesday, February 17, 2015 we got a call about a couple injured bald eagles from our colleagues with the Endangered and Nongame Species Program. They were reported hanging from a pine tree off a road in Tuckerton, NJ by some local residents. We didn’t know how long they were there, but we knew that we needed to respond quickly if a bird had a chance to survive. We arrived at the scene to find two adults that were indeed, hanging from a tree. Luckily the local residents on the scene knew someone who worked for AC Electric (he also lived on the same road the birds were off of) and had a truck with a cherry picker on it. After the cherry picker arrived I went up to free the two birds.

Two bald eagles interlocked, injured and hanging from a tree in Tuckerton, NJ. Photo by Ben Wurst.

Two bald eagles interlocked, injured and hanging from a tree in Tuckerton, NJ. Photo by Ben Wurst.

One eagle was alive and one had unfortunately died. The two were likely engaged in a territorial dispute and fell to where they hung on that skinny tree branch. Eagles are extremely territorial to their nest sites and even fight over food when it is scarce. Eagles also often lock feet while performing courtship displays, but this was certainly NOT a courtship display. Each had a foot that was totally locked with the other. The dead eagle had it’s “death grip” on the surviving eagle and if no one saw these birds then both would have died. (It was confirmed on 3/5 that both birds were female)

After assessing the situation I realized I needed some kind of a pole or hand saw to cut a branch to slide the dead birds leg off the branch, which would free both birds. I called down to the local residents who gathered below and asked if any had a saw. One did, so I went back down, grabbed the saw and proceeded back up to cut the branch and free the hanging eagles.

After bringing the birds down to the ground, watch as it took three grown men to pry their feet apart.

The survivor was banded (although the federal band was missing) with a green auxiliary band, C/58, and she was ID’d as a female that was produced at a nest near Merrill Creek Reservoir in 2008.

I had no idea how I would carry the surviving bird home. She was wrapped in a blanket to keep her calm. I was considering driving her to my house (10 min away) on my lap or on the floor of my truck (wrapped up). Luckily neither was needed! Another local resident had a large dog crate in his truck so we put the bird in the crate. After talking over options for care of the bird with Kathy Clark, ENSP Zoologist, we decided to transport her to the Mercer County Wildlife Center last night. I met Diane Nickerson, Director of MCWC, who stayed late to help give this bird the urgent care that it most desperately needed. It was alert and feisty, which were both good signs. It was given fluids, medications, and was placed in an incubator to stay warm for the night. We’re anxious to hear how the bird is doing today…


UPDATES: 10:58am – I just talked to Diane N. at MC Wildlife Center and she said the bird is alive, alert and standing. They cleaned out a wound on her upper leg (that I thought looked serious in the video, but luckily it is not that bad) and gave her more meds and tube fed her. The part that concerns all of us is her foot that was intertwined with the other eagle. She is still not moving her toes and it is still somewhat cold. An eagle with one foot will not be able to be released into the wild…

3:41pm – I just got a voicemail from Diane Nickerson of Mercer County Wildlife Center. Dr. Erica Miller, a leading expert in bald eagle care and rehabilitation in the area, sutured up a wound on her leg and found several fractures in her other leg (that was interlocked with the other eagle). The bird will be treated (leg splinted) and transported to Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc. in Delaware for further care. We’re hoping she makes a full recovery!

2/19/15: I got an email update Dr. Erica Miller at Tri-State Bird Rescue. Basically, the bird’s foot is “touch and go” at this point. Dr. Miller isn’t too optimistic about the right foot (the one that was interlocked with the other eagle). It’s still swollen, has frostbite, and is fractured. The fracture has been stabilized with a splint. But she has tried to stand on the foot, so they’re doing everything they can to try and save it! Hopefully some more rest and treatments will help it recover.

2/23/15: Sad news all. I got word this morning that she was unfortunately euthanized at Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research. They worked tremendously hard to try and save her leg but the fracture and frostbite made her prognosis really bad. It was the best choice to humanely euthanize her. An eagle with one leg would not be able to survive in the wild and eagles in general do not like being in captivity. Thank you to the wonderful staff at Tri-State!

3/5/15: It was confirmed that both birds were female. Thank you all for the comments and praise!

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55 Responses to “Battling bald eagles land in tree”

  1. Frank says:

    “We wholeheartedly agree with their decision. Keeping a wild eagle with one leg in captivity is not an ideal life for an eagle. Her spirit will always soar above us all.”

    Did anyone ask the eagle?

  2. Marianne says:

    Nor is euthanization in captivity an ideal death for an eagle. Her spirit may never.. The eagle would answer that any human decision to interfere with its Life, or its Death, is by all rights, wrong.

  3. Maria says:

    Isn’t it possible that there are eggs in her nest at this time of year? Will the male eagle abandon them if the female doesn’t return? Is there some way to recover the eggs, hatch them in captivity and then release them as fledglings when they are ready? That is assuming the location of her nest is know and If the male does indeed abandon them.

  4. Gary says:

    This was a valiant, noble effort to try and save one of our natural national treasures as well as the symbol we embrace, in recognition of our country’s freedom. I thank and fully support all who did their best to salvage the surviving eagle! If we lived in a State where Bald Eagles proliferate this “news” story would be fairly commonplace and not “newsworthy”. However, in New Jersey, eagles are on the rebound thanks to the efforts of those folks like Mr. Wurst and all who work for the good of our wildlife. I was saddened to hear the eagle had to be euthanized but fully understand the reasons why. It is far more humane than returning it to the wild only to experience the slow, agonizing death of starvation. Humans are responsible for eagles becoming endangered, we now bear the responsibility of bringing them back! Let the experts make the tough decisions of which birds can and cannot survive on their own. If you asked the eagle, which language would you expect it to respond in?

  5. Ben says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Gary!

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