The Fears, Joys and Thrills of Eagle Watching

Every year more and more Bald Eagles are passing through the southwestern Ohio skies in search of a territory of their own. Several of our larger bodies of water are now claimed by a nesting pair of eagles. One local body that seems to be struggling a bit is the lake behind Englewood dam, just north of Dayton, not far from Clayton, Ohio.

A few years ago a young pair of eagles constructed an aerie in a tree near the west side of the lake but later abandoned the nest. In the ensuing years other eagles have shown interest in the abandoned nest but have all moved on. The shallow lake itself has seen sporadic flurries of eagle activity providing some wonderful photographic opportunities, but the eagles always seem to disappear as quickly as they had come.

Late spring and early summer was such a time at Englewood. Several juveniles and a pair of adults were fishing its waters and perching in the surrounding trees. Unfortunately, tragedy struck again. On Sunday, June 29th, a severely injured adult Bald Eagle was discovered in Clayton. Personnel from the Glen Helen Raptor Center reported that the bird had sustained severe electrical burns from apparent contact with power lines in the area. The injuries were so serious that the decision was made to euthanize the animal. Unfortunately, as the Bald Eagle population continues to recover these reports are much too common, here, in Decorah, Iowa and across the nation.

This morning I received an unnerving call from Betty Ross of Glen Helen. She had received a call from Jeff, a well field worker, concerning a grounded eaglet within the well field. Since I was near the area, Betty asked me to contact Jeff and visit the well field to evaluate the situation. Over the phone Jeff told me that he had seen one of our three juveniles sitting awkwardly in the grass for several hours. He further reported that this eaglet’s two siblings were perched side by side in the top of a tree nearby. (When we lost the eaglet named Spirit in 2011, his sister, Pride, spent the day perched atop a pole near her injured brother.) Jeff stated that the eaglet was hopping around but apparently unable to fly. I asked him if the eagle was possibly simply holding prey in its talons, if it was dragging a wing or if it appeared visibly injured in any other way. He responded that it looked otherwise healthy.

Fifteen minutes later I was watching the bird myself. The scene was just as I had been told, two juveniles in the tree and one more looking very out-of-place on the ground. As novice flyers, recently fledged eaglets are easily grounded at times. It takes a lot of strength and a bit of practice, to get airborne from the ground, but this 15-week-old bird was not even trying. A grounded eagle is subject to parasites and predators and will eventually starve if not fed. After watching our subject for 10 minutes or so as it was heckled by a persistent Red-winged Blackbird but showing little reaction, and then seeing it hobble 20 feet deeper into the grasses of the field I noticed that its right wing was being held slightly farther from its body then the other wing. I called Betty and asked her to meet us.

In about 30 minutes she arrived with her assistant, Molly. In the meantime the eagle had continued its awkward trek along a 40’ wide stretch of grassland between two reservoirs, heading in the general direction of a wooded area.  It had by now wandered yet another 150’or so, so I repositioned my car to a spot between the eagle and the grove of trees hoping the juvenile would remain in the grassy field where it could be more easily captured. Throughout this time we had stayed quite a respectable distance from the bird. As Betty’s car approached the eagle hopped up three steel stairs onto the concrete base of pump #40, a platform about 3’ above the ground. Then, as Betty and Molly approached from the west, I approached from the east. We were still about 70 feet away when the juvenile fluttered, hopped and using the drop from its platform flew low over the ground, across a narrow reservoir and swooped up into a tree!

Although it did appear to be favoring its right wing a bit, it had flown. I suspect that in one of the early morning downpours it had fallen from a perch or had been knocked down by the wind and rain. Once grounded, it had been unable to get airborne again and the slight elevation provided by that concrete platform was all it really needed to fly.

I have been part of a rescue where the juvenile did not survive its injuries and part of one where things turned out well but the best rescues are those where the rescue never really happens because the eagle rescues itself. The well field workers are always watching for any signs of trouble and it is always better to be safe rather than sorry.

Not having my camera with me (Sorry Roger.) I was only able to snap this image with my cell phone.

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All in all, today was a good day amid the fears, joys and thrills of eagle watching.

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Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 9:44 pm  Comments (8)  

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. My heart skipped a beat when you said an eaglet was down!! I imagine yours did too. Thankfully the eaglet will be okay and will get stronger. Wasn’t there any sign of Jim or Cindy around? And is that unusual that they would not come to the aid of the eaglet? Dayton is so fortunate to have so many people looking out for this eagle family!!!! A big thanks to all of you!!! Thanks Jim. Polly.

  2. Dear Eagle Jim. Thank you for all you do for the Bald Eagles in your area, and for sharing your experiences with all of us.

  3. Oh I’m so glad all seems OK with the eaglet. Big THANK YOU to all involved in keeping eyes on them and you, Betty & Molly for such a fast response. Everyone there are true Eagle HEROES.

  4. Jim and Cindy were not seen Polly but they may have been watching from somewhere. I did see one of the adults about an hour later.

  5. Same to you Carolyn. It is a story worth sharing.

  6. We all love to see them prosper Jannice. They keep life interesting in many ways.

  7. So sorry to hear about the eagle found electrocuted. I was in Decorah Iowa this past week when the beautiful eaglet there was found. Heartbreaking. 2 years ago we had wooden perches added to some of the power poles around the nest where they liked to perch to keep them safe and the other poles around the area were checked to see if they were avian safe. The power company was very cooperative and helpful. Unfortunately it needs to be done everywhere because they don’t stay in one place. The eaglet in Decorah possibly collided with transmission lines, and no avian safe cover or perch will keep that from happening. If we could only find a way to make those lines and power poles safe everywhere. Electrocution seems to be one of the leading causes of injury or death to eagles…

  8. We have had our utility retrofit the poles near our nest as well. This bird was a new bird in a nearby community without an established nest. But you are certainly correct when you say that electrocution happens much to often Dee.


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