Eagle Eye

Before you read any further, and if you are so inclined, please offer a kind thought or a prayer that our eagle regains the sight in her eye so that she can be released into the wild and hunt again.

Thank you.

Saturday evening, Hope for Wildlife posted a message to its private dispatch group that a Cape Breton man had found an injured eagle near his cottage. It was dark by the time I saw the message, and we were in for some bad weather overnight, so there wasn't any way to rescue the bird until morning. I called the man, and we made arrangements to try and find the bird together the next day, though he was worried she might be dead by then. He said she looked as though she had been hit with a shot gun, and while she could walk, she could not fly.

Sunday morning, Sean and I followed him up the Kempt Road to a place where the pavement ended. Then we continued around the hillside on a narrow and winding dirt road covered in a foot of snow (once again, I love my truck). At a place in the woods that looked completely random to me, he got out of his own truck with his wife, daughter and two friends and pointed to a spot along the creek bank where the eagle had been the night before. We spread out, hiked into the woods and looked for her but found her twenty minutes later on the other side of the road near the lake's edge, huddled under a copse of evergreens.

The Snow-Covered Dirt Road The Entrance To The Path Where We Found Her

I don't have any pictures of her there because I was focused on her rescue, but I will say that I was heartbroken by her vulnerability. She was standing, but her head was tucked into her chest, and she looked utterly defeated. I could see that one side of her face was covered in blood and infection, but she was definitely mobile, so I wasn't certain how quickly she would be able to move. Sean asked everyone there to fan out in a circle around her so that she would be less inclined to flee, I gathered a blanket in my hands and the man who led us there followed me to the copse with a blanket-lined crate we had brought along to put her in.

I think I should pause here for a moment to write about eagle talons. Eagles are incredibly powerful predators, and their talons are both long and sharp. But more importantly, eagle claws have a locking mechanism that helps to keep prey animals in hand while they fly. This means that once an eagle's claw closes around an object and her leg retracts, those talons are locked in place. If they close around a human forearm, they pierce the skin, crush the bone and stay there. The only way to remove them is to sedate the bird.

So I was nervous about this operation. In theory, I knew what to do; throw the blanket over the bird to quiet her, reach under her body and securely grab both legs above the talons while keeping my face and eyes away from her beak. But I had never done this before, and I didn't want for either of us to be hurt. I approached her on her blind side, tossed the blanket over her head and was able to grasp one leg through the fabric. The man behind me tilted the crate, and I lifted, pivoted and put her inside. She was so light for such a powerful creature. I was surprised. He put the lid on the crate, and we gave each other a high five. Mission accomplished.

At The Vet Side View Of Her Wounds Another View Of Her Wounds

We parted company then, and Sean and I went to meet an awesome veterinarian at Sydney Animal Hospital who had volunteered to come in and examine the bird free of charge. But it takes more than one person to manage an eagle, so he employed me to help with assessment, x-rays and medication. By then I had lost my fear of the eagle (but not my respect!), so I was delighted to help, and I learned a great deal. I also had the opportunity to interact with her up close, to watch her chest rise and fall as she breathed, to extend her wings with my hand for her x-rays, to inhale the mingled forest and musk (and feces and infection) bird smell of her. At one point, however, she balked at our ministrations, opened her wings and swept everything off the examination table. Seconds later, I found myself clutching the legs of an airborne bird while the vet worked to bring her back down. She was beautiful. Exhilarating. Terrifying.

Her Wing Under X-Ray Her Examination A Close-up Of My Hands Around Her Legs (Those Talons!)

After she was stabilized and medicated (I was so grateful for her pain meds), Sean and I drove her to the causeway, where we met with another volunteer who transported her to Dartmouth and a HfW staffer who took her the rest of the way. Now the rest is up to healing, good care and the Divine, by whatever name you call Her. The eagle's eyesight needs to return in order for her to be able to hunt again, and the infection in her face was at least a week old. But no matter what happens now, we (all of us; the MacAskill family, Sean, Steven the Awesome Veterinarian, Alex, Nicole, Hope for Wildlife and me) saved her from a long, slow death. Which brings me to another beautiful thing I witnessed yesterday; the basic, human goodness of so many people.