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. Kathy J. Sokolow says:

    Well done!
    Mating rituals, I’ve read that they dive bomb and plummet in a free-fall and after 100feet or more. They smash together clasping each other with their claws! Supposedly they mate in this manner? Difficult to figure out how exactly, it’s not like any other fowl that I’ve heard of? Perhaps it was a territorial dispute as you surmised? Now you have an idea about their mating habits. They usually connect before they get into the tree canopy though.
    Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s more important than people realize!
    Best Regards,
    Kathy J. Sokolow

  2. Ben says:

    Thank you, Kathy! Mated pairs can tangle a bit during courtship but by no means do they go this far. These two were in a battle over territory and due to their circumstances, now both eagles might not survive.

  3. Kathy J. Sokolow says:

    I hope the one that you saved makes a better recovery than, what is currently thought. It would be a shame to loose them both. Thank you’s go to the people that called and helped you out with everything that you needed ~ especially when they didn’t have to, everyday heroes!
    Thank You,
    Kathy J. Sokolow

  4. Robin Beyer says:

    AWESOME SAVE!!! please keep us updated on how she’s doing.

  5. jimbowie says:

    Just to clarify, ‘mating ritual’ is a misnomer. A more accurate term is courtship or bonding ritual. Eagles do not actually ‘mate’ while in mid air. This usually occurs on a branch or on the nest. It is a very important part of pair bonding and occurs regularly throughout the nesting season.

  6. Ann says:

    That was amazing, and a testament to your great work. I’ll be saying a prayer for her to make it. Will a necropsy be done on the other? Was it a male or female? Only curious if they might have both been alive when they hit the tree, and if so why they didn’t release grip. Maybe because of the injury to both. Concerned too that she is a nesting female. Don’t they leave the nest and eggs and the male sits on them? The natural world is both beautiful and brutal at the same time. Thank God for wary residents and Ben’s brave work.

  7. Bridget Tharp says:

    This is my family’s property, My girls were sledding & heard/saw the birds up in the tree & ran home to tell my husband! I told them that they were in the right place & the right time & saved an Eagle 😉

  8. Ben says:

    Wow! Tell your daughters they did a great thing yesterday! They’re the true heroes in my book! 🙂

  9. Ben says:

    Thanks, Ann. We don’t think a necropsy will be performed on the dead eagle. We pretty assume that the surviving eagle killed her (we think they’re both females). We’re not sure if she is laden with eggs or already had a nest. The closest known nest was over 4 miles away, which is too far for her to be from her nest if it was active with eggs. We’ll be sure to post updates as they come in!

  10. Ben says:

    Got it, Jim.

  11. Ben says:

    Thanks, will do!

  12. Bridget Tharp says:

    Aww Thank You Ben ~ I just told them ~ I also just read the latest update, we too are hoping she makes a FULL recovery 😉

  13. Anne Woolley says:

    Diane and MCWC will give this eagle the best of care!

  14. Annette says:

    Amazing work guys.
    I’m so glad that you guys took the time to go out there and help these lovely creatures.
    It’s really to bad that only the one survived.
    Great luck to that eagle…
    Prayers infinity

  15. Teri Wieckhorst says:

    Awesome job all! Ben, your dad would have been so proud of you, he was truly a great guy too. That eagle was so lucky to have such wonderful “neighbors”.

  16. So wishing I could help more. The Bald Eagle holds a special place in my heart; my husband passed away 3 years ago this March 17…after a long courageous battle with cancer. He held a strong belief in natures spirits. Six hours before God took his hand he told us he was sorry but it was “time to go fly with eagles” and he passed in peace. Hope this little bit helps towards saving this beautiful “spirit”.

  17. What an extraordinary and compelling story! Beautifully written too, if I may say so – I read it right through twice… RH

  18. Ben says:

    So sorry for your loss. Yeah, we hope that this eagle will make a full recovery to soar over our heads as we watch and are amazed by their beauty.

  19. Ben says:

    Thank you, Teri! I know that my dad was watching over me that day. I’m truly thankful for all that I learned from him from our time together. I’ll never forget…

  20. Ben says:

    She sure did!! 🙂

  21. Ben says:

    Thank you! Really, it was the diligence of the local residents who made this all possible. The “stars aligned” to save that birds life. They spotted the birds, got the cherry picker, had the pruning hand saw, and the dog crate. I was merely the line that connected the dots. Happy to help whenever I can!

  22. Ben says:

    When I get new updates I’ll make sure to let everyone know by editing this post.

  23. Dee says:

    Oh no! I hope these weren’t one of our females in Mystic Shores!! They have been having a producing nest the past two years I have been living there.

  24. Maria says:

    It really does take a village, so glad that you all were there to help save that gal I hope she makes a full recovery. I never thought I’d see a Bald Eagle in my life when I was a kid, what an awe inspiring example of what conservation can do. I am amazed and so grateful to have the opportunity to see so many these last few years right here in our own little town, oh how I love the Pinelands 🙂 Nice job Ben, keep up all the great conservation work you do and for that I saw thank you..

  25. Ben says:

    That it does! Thanks so much, Maria!

  26. Jim Roberts says:

    Good work. It is too bad that only one of the two survived and very fortunate that someone did spot them and the people and facilities were available to complete the task.

  27. Debbie says:

    Touching event. Thank goodness for caring people. Great work.

  28. OMG! How awful…I was on pins and needles watching this. I am so thankful for everyone who worked so hard,esp through the environmental hardships,to get this done. The stars in the sky are shinning for you! And,thanks to everyone for caring! It’s sad to loose one,but really hope the best for the other.Please let everyone know what happens.
    God Bless your kind and gentle hearts.

  29. Bridget Tharp says:

    Ben any recent updates on her?

  30. Sheryle says:

    Great work Ben! Thank you so much for caring about NJ’s wildlife! That was amazing to watch…so sad the other eagle died but suppose that is nature taking it’s course. I will be praying for the best outcome for the eagle that survived!

  31. Ben says:

    Hey Bridget, I got word today that she was euthanized on Saturday at Tri-State Bird Rescue due to the injuries to her leg.

  32. Ben says:

    Thank you, Sheryle! We have sad news. The surviving eagle was euthanized on Saturday due to the injury to her right leg. We did our best and will do so again if it means giving an injured bird a chance to survive.

  33. Ben says:

    Thank you, Louise! Unfortunately, I got word today that she was euthanized on Saturday at Tri-State Bird Rescue due to the injuries to her right leg.

  34. Bridget says:

    Aww so sad – Thank You for keeping us updated Ben!

  35. Maki says:

    Sad news…but at least he received best care possible. Thank you.

  36. Colette Buchanan says:

    Incredible footage. Sad ending, but nice to see all the people that helped out and tried to rescue the eagles. Thanks for your great work Ben.

  37. Kevin Corey says:

    Hello, News12 New Jersey would like Permission to air the Utube video of the rescue.

  38. Wild Wood says:

    Thank you for the compassionate effort of all involved. Thank you also Ben for the detailed follow up and closure. Not the outcome all hoped for, but for the intitial survivor, an effort that hopefully eased her suffering.

  39. Jerseyme says:

    Someone should try to look for the nest she was defending. There maybe a male Eagle trying to take care of her eggs . So sad she was euthanized because of her injuries

  40. Suzanne Mazzuoccolo says:

    Thank you for all that you did to try and save the Eagle. It is very sad that she had to be euthanized.

  41. Bridget Tharp says:

    Great Article in this week’s Sandpaper!!!!!

  42. Marianne says:

    Praise deserved by all involved in a tough situation. Could the band on the victim’s leg have been instrumental in the breakage or frostbite it suffered? Also was it possible to easily remove the band for effective treatment? Do the people who band the raptors account for these real-life contingencies?

  43. Vinny Turner says:

    Great save Ben!! You ‘da Man!! Such a shame the surviving eagle had to be put down. This is why we love the work that we do Ben. We want to make a difference!

  44. Ben says:

    Thank you, Vinny! I really appreciate it! We always have to give an injured bird a chance, no matter the outcome!

  45. Ben says:

    Hey Marianne, The aux. band on the right leg did not play a role in it getting frostbite or being fractured. The bird hanging upside down for possibly more than 18 hours in extreme cold temperatures most likely caused the frostbite. The fracture was likely caused by falling towards the ground and hitting the tree and branch they hung from. During treatment the band was removed. This incidence has nothing to do with the bird being banded.

  46. HARRIET GROSE says:


  47. Connie says:

    The Trust maintains only the number of un-releasable birds that it needs for educational purposes. The Trust will also euthanize a raptor that cannot be repaired to be eventually released to the wild.
    I also believe that a leg injury of this type is another reason for not keeping the bird. A bird that cannot stand is a different circumstance than a bird with one eye or a broken wing.

  48. Ben says:

    Harriet, We know about the Raptor Trust and have brought birds there. They do great work! If you read the post then you saw that we consulted directly with Kathy Clark, a Zoologist with NJ Fish & Wildlife, who is an expert in bald eagle ecology. We obviously did all that we could to try and save the injured eagle. We originally planned to bring her to Tri-State Bird Rescue in Delaware (who is closest to our location and have staff veterinarians who volunteer for the NJ Bald Eagle Project) but the staff vet, Dr. Erica Miller was in surgery at the time of the rescue. After weighing our options it was decided that we get the bird to Mercer Co. Wildlife Center, where the Director stayed late to give this bird urgent care that it needed and the bird would be transferred to Tri-State for continued care. The fact of the matter is that it didn’t really matter where we brought it for care. The prognosis was not good from the get go and we realized that but did all that we could to try and save her. It’s up to the expert wildlife rehabilitators/veterinarians where we took the bird to decide on it’s fate. 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.

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