Oakland, CA – The dramatic rescue of an injured bald eagle fledgling from the debris of a fallen nest on ranchland adjacent to Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore had those involved in the effort all aflutter for the last half of June.
Thanks to a collaboration between nearby ranch managers, who spotted the nest debris and helped locate the fallen fledge, Park District biologists and naturalists, who headed up the rescue and release efforts, and the Lindsey Wildlife Hospital, whose wildlife medical team was able to nurse the eaglet back to health, the story ended well for the young eagle.
The near-tragic event occurred at the site of a large stick nest, considered a “nest at risk” for the past three-to-four years due to a previous nest falling from the same pine tree. On the evening of June 11, the trunk supporting the nest snapped during a heavy windstorm and the entire nest was blown down out of the tree.
Park District Wildlife Biologist David “Doc Quack” Riensche was notified early the following morning by neighboring ranchers, who first noticed the adult bald eagles standing guard near the fallen nest site, and soon after spotted the 10.5-week-old male eaglet atop the pile of debris with his wing folded back. As a fledgling, the injured young bird was particularly vulnerable. A fledgling’s feathers and wing muscles may be sufficiently developed for flying but they may not yet be capable of flight, and they are still dependent upon parental care and feeding. The ranch managers had not seen his female sibling, but they would continue to watch for her. Later that morning, Del Valle Naturalist Alex Collins, who was leading a regular bald eagle program, noticed the nest was gone and sent photos to Riensche, who was already preparing to attempt a rescue.
With approval from federal and state wildlife agencies to proceed, Riensche and Wildlife Program Manager Doug Bell met on-site with the ranch managers and climbed up the steep slope to remove the eaglet from the nest debris (above, left). The eaglet was transported to Lindsay Wildlife Hospital in Walnut Creek, where x-rays showed that it had a fractured right radius (wing bone). Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Krystal Loo pinned the wing bone so that it would mend properly.
While the fledge was convalescing, the ranch managers reported seeing its sibling in flight and calling to its parents, who were responding and feeding it.
“We were relieved to know that the sibling had survived the tree collapse and its ‘forced fledging’, as it were,” said Riensche. “This gave us confidence that if the eaglet at Lindsay Wildlife Hospital recovered quickly, we could reunite it with its family.”
By June 29, the pin was removed from the wing, and the following day Dr. Loo and Veterinary Technician Peter Flowers performed an “eaglet exit exam,” which included feeding it and checking its wings, injury location, and talons/grip to be sure it was ready for release. With a clean bill of health and proper federal and state approvals in-hand, the team began coordinating the newly-healed fledge’s return to the wild.
On the morning of June 30, Riensche and Del Valle Supervising Naturalist Ashley Grenier, on-hand to photograph the release, met on-site with the ranch managers to discuss the release plan. A good eagle release site was located close to the original nest location, which was high enough to avoid potential ground-based threats and provided excellent up drafts to help the eaglet practice flapping its wings, build muscle tone, and hopefully get airborne.
The team was unable to take it out of the crate and carry it to the release location, as the “eaglet with attitude” was known to be a fighter and difficult to handle. Riensche lugged the crated fledgling back up the steep slope and placed the kennel on a large log, allowing it some time to recognize the familiar surroundings. A short time later, the fledgling walked out of the kennel and slowly made his way upward (above, right).
By mid-afternoon, the eaglet was heard calling to its parents, who were feeding his sibling in a nearby pine. To be sure it would be hungry enough to call to its parents, the fledgling had only received enough food to get it through the day and be well-hydrated. However, with no visual sign of the released eaglet by sundown, the team was very anxious about its fate.
“At this point, the released eaglet calling was a good sign, and we hoped the adults would respond by feeding it soon,” explained Doug Bell. “We were thinking it might stay grounded for a couple of days, or just take short hopping flights until it built up muscle tone,” he added.
Around noon the next day, the ranch managers reported seeing both eaglets in the same tree, while the attending adult fed one of the fledglings as the other one vocalized. The sighting meant that the recovered eaglet was able to take flight and reunite with its family, a happy ending to a bald eagle adventure – just in time for the Fourth of July!
The East Bay Regional Park District is the largest regional park system in the nation, comprising 73 parks, 55 miles of shoreline, and over 1,300 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and environmental education. The Park District receives more than 25 million visits annually throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the San Francisco Bay Area