Volunteers on Haida Gwaii have rescued 13 injured eagles since December 28, 2021 and most of the incidents are preventable, Leila Riddall, a volunteer said on July 19.
When Port Clements councillor Kazamir Falconbridge set out to run an errand on June 27, he wasn’t prepared for an eagle rescue.
Driving along Highway 16, just north of Port Clements, he approached a car and two women on the side of the road and could see a juvenile eagle in distress in the ditch so he pulled over.
No one had a box or a blanket in their car, but Falconbridge knew he had to act fast. Once the bird made it into the forest he knew it would be very difficult to get it out because its wings would get caught in the trees.
Falconbridge guessed that this particular bird had a wing span of six feet.
Two more cars pulled over. Luckily, a member of the Search and Rescue team was in one and he started looking for a blanket and tote to put the eagle in.
In the other car were a couple from Masset. The man offered Falconbridge his new jacket as a make-do blanket.
Falconbridge swiftly grabbed the bird’s feet with the man’s jacket and hooked his right thumb under the eagle’s left shoulder. The man from Masset helped him support the injured wing close to the eagle’s body.
“So now I had the eagle in my bare hands and walked out of the ditch with it,” Falconbridge said.
He lowered it into the blanket-lined tote prepared by the search and rescue member.
“Got to go really slow with birds. Really slow and gentle and talk to them and look into their eyes, they’re really intelligent creatures,” Falconbridge said.
“Because I have chickens and ducks and geese, and turkeys now too, so I know about looking after birds and the eagle got into the blanket and I wrapped up the eagle. I’ve also had two children and I know how to swaddle a baby so that they can’t get out of the cloth. So I did exactly that, I swaddled that eagle up in that blanket really nice and tight and only its head was sticking out.”
There isn’t a place on the island that can care for hurt eagles so Riddall coordinates to fly them to the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) in Delta B.C.
Riddall also does a lot of rescues herself in the northern communities, while another volunteer covers the southern region of Haida Gwaii.
“I wish we had a place up here where we could deal (with injured eagles) because just the cost and the stress on the animal, keeping it for two days because there’s no plane and then it’s been suffering for those two extra days,” Riddall said.
Thirteen eagles have been rescued on the archipelago since December 28, 2021, and that doesn’t include those that didn’t survive.
After doing this for almost a decade, Riddall said these numbers are not unusual, and it’s really unfortunate because many of the injuries are preventable.
The most common reason eagles are sent to OWL is lead poisoning, she said. Lead the size of a piece of sand can make an eagle sick, and when hunters leave animal carcass remains in the forest or along the road, they are often contaminated by lead bullets.
Riddall said there is a solution: stop using lead ammunition.
Electrocution and vehicle strikes are the second most common cause of eagle injuries, she said. The large birds are not very agile and have a difficult time gaining altitude quickly. When a car approaches after they’ve been feasting on a dead animal near the road, they try to fly away but often get hit by the vehicle or caught in a hydro line and electrocuted.
Riddall encourages people to drag road kill further into the forest but knows that not everyone is capable of doing this. Someone without the physical strength to pick up a dead animal doesn’t have anyone to call for help.
There are also specialized non-electrocution power lines that would benefit Haida Gwaii, Riddall said. While it’s more expensive, in areas where there is a high population of birds being electrocuted it would be worth the extra cost.
The eagle Falconbridge rescued did not survive. Riddall estimated that less than one in ten injured eagles from Haida Gwaii are rehabilitated and released after being sent to OWL.
“We need to take bigger steps in preventative measures, because all of this is preventable,” Riddall stressed.
She would like to see more garbage bins put out for hunters and fisherman to put animal remains in, as well as informational signs explaining why it is so important to properly dispose of leftover carcasses.
Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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