Christina Lake resident climbs tree to free eagle from snagged talon

‘I thought if ever an eagle were to feel embarrassed, this would be the time’

  • Aug. 13, 2019 10:30 a.m.

It’s not every day you get to help out a trapped eagle.

On Tuesday Aug. 6, Pat Zinio, our neighbour at Christina Lake, noticed something high up in a nearby tree by Parsons Creek and realized it was an eagle that had somehow gotten its leg trapped in a branch and was hanging upside down.

It flapped repeatedly, though less and less with time, to try to gain an upright position and free itself. While we watched this seemingly unbelievable and tragic spectacle, the eagle was being harassed by an osprey. Night was approaching and there didn’t seem much we could do to help. It was heartbreaking.

The next morning the sound of the osprey’s campaign of harassment suggested the eagle might still be alive. Though initially the eagle just swayed slightly as it hung by a talon, it eventually moved, and we knew it had survived the night! A second eagle, presumably the mate, was perched on an adjacent tree. It chased the osprey once or twice, but there was little it could do against this smaller and more agile adversary.

When a loon appeared off the point and repeated a mournful and haunting call, the unfolding macabre drama and gathering of characters was a stunning and surreal scene. The loon appeared to understand the situation and, I think, sympathized with the eagle. A few phone calls confirmed that there was no help to come; the bird remained trapped in the tree. However, my wife Sue was able to get some very helpful advice from Katelyn at OWL Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society.

I’ve got some tree climbing gear from all the work we’ve done at the cabin, not that I do this sort of thing much. Sue thought the long pants and shirt seemed unusual attire on the dawn of another scorching hot day. With spurs and flipline, I began my ascent of the tree Wednesday morning, limbing branches with a handsaw as I climbed and thinking I would likely chicken out and abort.

As I approached, the eagle was pretty uneasy with my presence, craning its neck while hanging upside down to keep its eyes trained on me. Though its stare was intense, it appeared mostly calm except when another branch came crashing down as I sawed my way closer. I can’t say that my talking to it achieved much either.

I thought, if ever an eagle were to feel embarrassed, this would be the time, but the stare from a predator near the top of the food chain didn’t suggest such shame. Reaching the raptor, I saw the problem.

The eagle’s talon was trapped in a twist of one small branch over another. I tied some rope to the branch the eagle was on and looped this over another branch, so the eagle would fall below me, though not far when the branch was cut and I would be able to lower it down. I was likely only about a metre from the eagle as I stretched out to a fork in the branch to do this, though all my concentration was on tying the rope and not falling out of the tree.

Sue and Barb Zinio were below with blankets ready, wondering how containing this enormous bird would go, assuming it would remain caught in the branch and likely be injured. Barb’s friend Doreen and another neighbour, Skidder and his son-in-law, were nearby, ready to lend a hand. However, as I cut the branch and as it began to sag and fall, the eagle became free. Russ, a neighbour around the point, heard the eagle’s noisy coast through the canopy to crash-land lower down in another tree.

Later in the day the bird was resting on the ground near the shore, going to waters edge to drink. Russ’s cabin was close to where the eagle was resting, he kept some would-be campers away and trapped a mouse that evening. On Thursday morning he watched the eagle eat it, and shortly after the eagle took flight and headed north along the lakeshore. As I measured out the rope I had used in the tree, the eagle had been at least 21 metres off the ground.

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