Friday, May 24, 2013

The Eagle

One of the places I spend time at is at a bird rehabber's not far from my home.  We've been going out there for about eight years, and there have been wonderful times and adventures spent in the company of some of most interesting and caring people I have ever met.  Being there has allowed me to be up close to birds I would only see in the wild, and then at a great distance.

The bad thing, of course, is that the birds wouldn't be there if they didn't need to be.  Red-tail hawks come in with gunshot wounds.  Mourning doves arrive bloody and featherless, mauled by outside cats.  Barred owls somehow survive by being hit by cars.  Nests get knocked out of trees by storms or tree cutters, and the babies left to fend for themselves.  You name it, a lot can happen to birds in this world we live in. 

Every once in a while, a call will come in from someone saying there's an injured bald eagle down on the side of the road.  It normally turns out to be a hawk, or an owl, or a sparrow--I kid you not.  Early this spring, Rose and I were sitting at a restaurant on a Friday evening, eating dinner when my cell phone rang.  It was our rehabber friend, and he'd got a call that an eagle was down in a field east of town, and would I meet him there to help.  If it really was an eagle, he couldn't handle it on his own, and he knew it.  The rehabbers are pretty discriminating and can usually tell if the call is valid or not.  They deemed this one to be the real thing.

Bald eagles have made a strong come back in Indiana over the last several years.  When I was a kid, it was unheard of to see an eagle here.  Now it's rare, but not uncommon.  And the habitat in our area has been greatly enhanced by the increasing health of the White River, so I think that has helped draw the eagles (and other fish eating birds) here ,too.

It was raining that evening, and for some stupid reason, I didn't have my rain gear with me, but I took down the directions, plugged them into my GPS, packed up the tacos in a to-go-box, and headed out.  Luckily, we were about five miles from the sighting.  A mile away, we got called off.  The bird, eagle or not, had flown off.

We drove there to look for it anyway.  The rain was pretty heavy and our guess was that it was just down on the ground waiting out the storm and when the rain let up, it took off.  We didn't see anything, and like so many of these calls, it turned out to be nothing.

But about a week later, the rehabber called me at home and said, "Guess what came in?"  And I said, "An eagle."  And, of course, I was right.  It's the first bald eagle to ever come in to their care, and it took three people to capture it.  I was sorry I missed out on that adventure.

It wasn't the same bird, or if it was, it would be impossible to tell. This one was injured several miles west of us.  There had been hail storm the night before, and it was possible that the eagle had been injured during the storm or caught in a down draft, but there weren't any obvious injuries.  I went out to take some pictures, and the eagle went to another rehabber who specializes in raptors in southern Indiana.  Sadly, the eagle died several weeks later.  Turns out that the death was probably old age.  The vet surmised that this eagle was between 30 and 35 years old.  She'd had a long life, had come into this world when I was just a teenager, and probably had hatched several nests of chicks.  She was probably one of the first true survivors of the law that did away with DDT, a chemical that nearly decimated the eagle population, or at the very least, she'd hatched from a generation of eagles that had benefited from that change in the law. 

It was possible that she been in, or through, Indiana for years and years.  For me, she was a rare sighting...a rare sighting indeed, and I had to wonder if I had ever looked up and seen her, and not known what I was looking at.  It's possible, but I'll never know for sure, and I'll always be glad that I was able to take this picture. 


Tom Cochrun said...

As a former Hoosier, I am fascinated by this post. Nice account.

Larry Sweazy said...

I think there is more here than we realize...