Dangling eagles rescued after tumbling into tree

Pair of raptors remained hanging for half day after talons lock

Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Here's another example of why bald eagles are known for their beauty and not their brains.

A pair of the national birds spent time last week hanging upside down in a tree after tangling talons and falling from the sky. Despite human efforts to get them to let go, they remained stuck for at least half a day.

"It looked like part of a butterfly collection pinned to the tree," said Ann Boochever, who spotted one of the eagles. "Its wings were spread and it was face down in the tree."

Boochever said she and a friend were hiking the gravel access road to the Salmon Creek Dam around noon July 15 when they heard an eagle squawk that sounded different from the usual call. They searched for the source and saw what looked like a single bird hanging from a limb 30 to 40 feet up a tree on a bank above the road.

"We looked at each other and ran down the trail to get help because we were afraid it was hurt," she said.

Once in an area where her cell phone worked, Boochever called Kathy Benner of the Juneau Raptor Center. After some more calls, Alaska Electric Light and Power unlocked an access gate to the road and sent a vehicle to speed their return to the site.

Boochever and Benner climbed up the bank to the tree and realized there were two eagles hanging from a branch, held together by their intertwined claws. The eagles could have locked talons while in the tree, but probably fell there after fighting or mating in the sky, Benner said.

"All we could do was make noise," she said.

Nothing happened and there was not much else the rescuers could do. They left, hoping the birds would free themselves. But when Boochever checked later that afternoon, the raptors remained.

A larger rescue crew returned about 8:30 that night with climbing gear. Benner's husband Tim headed up the tree but couldn't get close to the eagles.

"It was a very hard thing to do because the tree was on the side of a bank," Kathy Benner said. "He got about half-way up the tree but there were too many branches and the tree was too thin."

But he was able to get the eagles' attention, which was enough to shock them into letting go and flying off.

"He shook the tree and two seconds later those eagles were gone," she said. "They flew perfect for being upside down for 12 hours."

The rescue crew expected to have to take the eagles off in dog kennels to recuperate. Their midair recovery was amazing, Boochever said.

"It was spectacular to see them fly away that strong," she said. "They are tough birds."

Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at eschoenfeld@juneauempire.com.

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