Is a rescue mission a success if there isn’t any rescue? For two weeks, a bald eagle with two of its toes caught in a foothold trap has eluded capture.
When the eagle was spotted flying around Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge with the trap in late April by Refuge Manager Keith Ramos, he and his staff launched a rescue attempt that would grow to involve tree climbers, a utility company, a buffet of carcasses as eagle lure, and even an industrial strength magnet. They were intent on freeing the bird, one of a pair nesting along the road at this remote refuge in the far eastern reaches of Maine. If they could catch the bird, it could be attended to by a wildlife veterinarian if necessary.
The eagle could still “fly powerfully,” said Ray Brown, refuge biologist, who spent many a cold hour hunkered in a portable blind watching and waiting for the bird to land where it could be caught. Spring thaw happens late in that neck of the woods and daytime temps hovered in the 30s.
On the second morning of the search, rescuers were dismayed to find the eagle hanging upside down in a tall white pine tangled by the trap around a branch. She wasn’t moving and was presumed dead. Intent on salvaging the bird, the rescue team – expanded to include biologists from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife – brought in a telescoping ladder and climbing equipment by canoe to reach the tree.
As they got closer, spirits lifted when the eagle moved. When a local climber, with assistance from refuge law enforcement officer Amanda Hardaswick, got within an arm’s length of the powerful animal, it broke free and flew away.
Nearly two weeks later, the chase is still on.
The eagle is presumed to be the female in the nesting pair because of her size and recognizable red and silver leg bands. For a number of days she continued to return to her mate, but continued to elude capture. The rescuers turned their ingenuity into higher gear.
- When the eagle got tangled again on a nearby osprey nest platform, they called on the local power company, Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative. With a bucket truck and a net, they were optimistic, but she flew away again.
- When the eagle appeared to be tangled in a hardwood tree, professional tree climbers from the Biodiversity Research Institute were called in, but the eagle escaped once again.
- Traps were laid, baited with a deer carcass, dead fish, and even a goose, but no luck luring her to the ground where Ray was ready in the blind to deploy a rocket net.
- An 80-pound industrial strength magnet was covered with deer hair in the hope that it would hold the trap, and the eagle, long enough to capture her.
The eagle hadn’t been seen for a week, and a new female took up residence in the nest. Brown feathers in the newcomer’s tail were telltale signs that she is a younger bird. It began to seem unlikely that the trapped bird had survived.
Turns out she’s a survivor. The eagle reappeared this week, dirty and disheveled, but with no trap! The extent of injury to her toes remains to be seen, however she appears healthy considering her ordeal. Her first order of business? Kicking that newcomer out of the nest.
We want to mention that leg hold traps are used by trappers during regulated trapping seasons in Maine and just across the border in Canada. If the trap is retrieved, law enforcement officers may know more about its source to pursue that part of the eagle’s story.
Keith and his staff would like to thank the many individuals and organizations who have helped rescue the eagle including
–Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Charlie Todd, Erynn Call, Tom Schaeffer, Henry Jones, and Brittany Currier
–Biodiversity Research Institute, Bill Hanson and Chris Persico
-Mark McCullough, USFWS
–Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative
–City of Calais Public Works and Fire Department