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A Good Eagle Story - Harrison Mills Eagle Nest

Banders, Rehabilitators, Citizen Scientists - Contribute to Bald Eagle Knowledge

On March 5, 2013 an adult bald eagle showed up on the Harrison Mills Bald Eagle nest -- in view of our live streaming cams. On March 10 and thereafter two adult eagles were seen working on the nest. However it wasn't until March 31 that we noticed that the female was banded. A number of our volunteers immediately started to focus in on the band numbers. Nine numbers would be needed to get the records from the central North American band office, the USF&WS in Patuxent, Maryland to track down the history of this bird. Only 4 or 5 numbers could be seen on the facing curve of the band. This could be one of thousands of banded eagles -- but which one? Where did our late arriving female come from before appearing on our cams? This was an interesting challenge to unfold -- or uncurl -- over the next 3 months of the breeding season.

But let me give you the background. This Harrison Mills nest (HM) overlooks the world's largest winter gathering of bald eagles ever witnessed -- I counted 7,362 eagles individually in about 2 square kilometers of the Chehalis Flats, directly to the north and east of this nest on December 18, 2010. Probably well over 10,000 eagles were then present in the 5 kilometer area along the Harrison River that we consider our annual bald eagle winter count area. The eagles were here for one purpose, to gorge on the spawned out carcasses of the 5 species of salmon dominating this river -- Canada's first Salmon Stronghold River. Harrison Mills is the region surrounding the Chehalis Flats, the alluvial fan into the Harrison River which supports Canada's most important complex of spawning salmon which in turn attracts the huge numbers of bald eagles.

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Why the Eagles Returned


Hancock here:

Peter said it all! 

Peter Nye has been studying New York eagles since 1976 when he started the NY bald eagle reintroduction project.  From the early 1980s he spent his summers collecting eaglets from Alaskan nests.  These were of course the nests my friend, Jim King, had first surveyed by air and then Jack Hodges had expanded with his boat surveys.  Northern Alaskan bald eagles from Admiralty and Chichagof Islands became the new breeding stock that Peter Nye collected for the New York introduction. The full story of Peter Nye's NY eagles and their origin is given in the book Bald Eagles in Alaska by Bruce Wright & Phil Schempf (Hancock House 2010).


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The Story of Blueberry:

In more than 60 years of dealing with eagles, not counting our incidents getting world coverage on TV and live streaming Web, no actual bald eagle nest has resulted in more people simply asking me directly: "Do you know of the eagles nesting on the tower by Boundary Bay?"

So here is what I know from my records of "HWF Nest #152" -- but one of nearly 400 nests we have documented in the Fraser Valley. I would call it just the 'Tower Nest' but I have 9 pairs locally nesting on similar towers -- and several in and around Boundary Bay because we humans have long-ago chopped down most of the trees in which they would prefer to nest. But no doubt, this is the most obvious nest to many: the Boundary Bay Highway 99 Tower Nest #152 -- okay, the Tower nest!!

In the fall of 2010 I noticed adult eagles perched on the tower where earlier that year, and for the 3 previous years, Red-tailed hawks had successfully nested. Comments from neighbors started during the spring and summer of 2011. The eagles were so obvious standing on the tower and the nest was growing throughout the spring to a noticeable size. I had seen considerable nest activity during the spring of 2011, including seeing an adult sitting in the incubation position suggesting she had eggs. However the pair was not successful that season. By late summer the adults had departed, as all our eagles do, on their northern migration but were back on the tower by early November 2011 -- getting ready for the 2012 breeding season.

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Review of Rehab Decisions: When to Rescue!!

Hancock here:   a Review of our policy of the difficulty of rescuing raptors into rehab and then to "euthanize or not to euthanize."

The last element to  "euthanize or not to euthanize" captures all the gut wrenching emotions facing a person who just exercised their 'right motivations' and 'feel good' elements of considering to help out a critter in need.  Now the more terrible decisions come forward.  But lets start with the previous question that they faced moments earlier: when to bring a wild eaglet into captivity?    Is this the right moment to intervene? Or can we leave this creature in the wild for another few hours or days or is this the last and best chance to capture?  Animals have great recuperative powers and our judgements are not always right.  What is best for the animal?  Difficult questions to answer but we feel obligated to evaluate and act -- we are humans!

Rehabers offer great service but not without investing great commitment and often gut wrenching efforts.  So here is my perspective on some of these gut-wrenching  issues -- from a committed animal lover, a conservationist, a breeder of many birds, a biologist and one of British Columbia's pioneer rehabers.   And one thing is clear from my 64 years of dealing with these issues: the commitment inevitably leads to a lot of  gut-wrenching aftermath and none of the decisions ever gets easier. 

While much of the following can apply to most species I am specifically addressing eagles that are more frequently getting into difficulties and need our help.

Why do I even attempt to answer this emotion-charged field:  The big answer is simple -- I care about the animals and have been directly involved in these decision from my early years. So here it is again. At age 11 we moved to a farm and I started to raise pigeons, pheasants and the family chickens.  The first year I caught a hawk, met one of the world's most experienced falconers  and he became my mentor into understanding ecology.  Because of my mentor, Frank Beebe's position working at the Provincial Museum and his connections with the biologist community,  I was soon the only person on southern Vancouver Island who the Fish & Wildlife Gamewardens or biologists could bring an injured bird or mammal to for care. The SPCA was not equipped to look after hawks, seabirds or cougar kittens. Hancock became the easy way out!  And this was  a long time before there were 'rehab permits' -- there was just the need to have someone look after orphaned or incapacitated wildlife.  Time and circumstances simply dictated that I was given anything rescue
d from the Island or from the mainland if Stanley Park Zoo didn't want to deal with it!

The menagerie soon extended from raptors to seabirds and seals, bears, cougars and deer.  The house and farm soon took on the trappings of the first rehabilitation center for the British Columbia area. I would commandeer the local vets into helping, but that is expensive and pretty soon the unpaid vets were encouraging me to learn to handle most challenges on my own.  The biggest challenge then was if you could not release a critter, was to find it a home or euthanize the poor beast.  Then we had more options:  at least there were possibilities of giving the animal to a zoo, private breeder or an educator.

Today, few animal are wanted by or acceptable to zoos. Giving wildlife to private people or educators is almost a no-no.  So the options for today's rehabers are basically 'wild release'  or 'euthanasia'.  These are tough calls by people who care.

 In BC if the bird is not likely fixable for release the bird is/must be put down. The real troubling area becomes those birds that look treatable, are treated for some time,  but in the end are evaluated as  'possibly not being able to cut the wild mustard'. Now a lot of time, money, personal attachment, commitment and emotion have come into the equation for this one bird.  Challenging for all.

Root Decision:  At the roots of the first few decisions are: (a)  can the bird ........

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A Note of Thanks

Hancock here with a couple of special thanks - a Fledge Season Note:

First, a very special thanks to Judyb and her Charlie  -- not only does Judyb do so much in terms of special work during the entire year keeping the Forum and web running, with Charlie not just putting up with it, but they have done this incredible annual backup financial support of meeting donations -- our biggest financial fundraiser for the year.

Thanks Judyb and Charlie - you are a world-class couple.


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