Eagles released from death grip

Posted: Thursday, July 08, 2004

Two tenacious bald eagles in Juneau have made a full recovery after hooking up in a most unpleasant way.

The male eagles collided midair and crashed into a campsite at Thane Campground two weeks ago.

But that was just the beginning of their problems. The eagles were grounded, stuck to each other like fish on a hook.

One eagle's talons were embedded in the other's beak. The second eagle's talons were stuck in his foe's thigh, said Jaime Sorg, of the Juneau Raptor Center, adding, "They just wouldn't let go."

The raptor center was called to the scene by Jason Layton, operator of the Thane campground, 1 1/2 miles south of Juneau. The campground caters to backpackers.

Layton and a camper ended up pulling the two birds apart because the volunteers with the raptor center "couldn't physically do it," he said.

"That was the hardest part,'' Sorg said, explaining that bald eagles are capable of gripping their talons at a pressure in excess of 1,000 pounds per square inch.

Because the Juneau Raptor Center lacks an actual center at this time, Sorg cared for the eagles at her home. She kept them in dog crates until their medical regimen was completed.

The eagle with the worst injuries ended up with "a bloody nose," but both of them were put on antibiotics to prevent infection, she said. The least-harmed eagle had barely a scratch on his thigh and was released last week.

The eagle with the beak injury was on antibiotics for 10 days because of his bleeding and then was transferred to a large bird cage that would allow him to rebuild his muscles.

"We took a little extra time with him ... especially with his injury so close to the brain," Sorg said.

He was released at 7 p.m. Wednesday from Brotherhood Bridge, adjacent to the spot where the Juneau Raptor Center plans to build its new center when it raises the necessary funds. The group will lease the property from the City and Borough of Juneau.

Layton, from the campground, said he hopes the incident brings goodwill and publicity to the raptor center, so it can get started on its new building.

The raptor center treats an average of 56 bald eagles per year for injuries. Often, the injured birds cannot be saved. Two died this week - one because it was too starved for food. The second had to be euthanized due to a non-treatable injury, Sorg said.

No one knows why these eagles refused to let go of each other, but Sorg has a pretty good idea of how their fight got started.

"We think they were probably fighting over each other's turf,'' she said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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