You Win Some, You Loose Some

Beak-injured Bald Eagle held overnight by Coastal Raptors at the Polynesian Resort in Ocean Shores, Washington. Dan Varland photo.
Dan Varland photo.

April 29, 2023: Ocean Shores Muncipal Airport

Coastal Raptors began monitoring the health of avian scavengers on the Pacific coast in 2011. This effort involves capturing Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures and Common Ravens for tissue sampling ahead of lab tests for pathogen and contaminant exposure.

This day we trapped a Bald Eagle with a severe beak injury, clearly evident in the photos above. Our first eagle to find with a significant injury, this capture marked the 27th Bald Eagle that we’d handled.

I assumed the eagle was a male given that, like nearly all raptors, males are smaller than females and, to me, he appeared small. (Note: We didn’t take the time for measurements, which would have determined gender; for more on the process in Bald Eagles, click here).

Jake Burroughs was first to the trap, securing our bird with a firm hand. Dan Varland photo.
Removed from the net and fitted with a hood and canvass boots, youngest team member Caeden Gaffney got a chance to hug the eagle while others worked with the trap. Dan Varland photo.
Nine days before the capture (April 20), I detected the injured eagle in a video from a motion-sensitive trail camera that I had set next to several deer carcasses at the future trap site. (This “pre-baiting” allows trappers to see when scavengers are feeding which boosts capture success.)
David Landis holds the eagle while team members take a look at the injured beak. L to R, Gill Radcliffe, David Barber, Alan Andrew and yours truly. Clarissa Gaffney photo.

We captured the eagle at 5:00 PM which, given the injury and time of day, ended all trapping efforts. Most in our group were spending nights at the Polynesian Resort in Ocean Shores. We shuttled him there.

His plumage was unkempt. He was emaciated and dehydrated. Given his condition, Alan and Gill knew from their own experiences with raptor rehab that the first thing we needed to do was give him fluids. They purchased a turkey baster and plastic tubing in town, which they used to get water to his stomach. (It was a Saturday night they had to improvise – the proper veterinary supplies for this operation were unavailable.)

The effort by Gill and Alan to re-hydrate was a success. Dan Varland photo.
Dan Varland photo.

The following day Alan and Gill drove the eagle to the PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynwood, Washington for treatment three hours away. Sadly, given his condition, there was no chance of rehabilitation and release to the wild. Animal care specialists at PAWS made the difficult decision to euthanize.

Caeden Gaffney, the youngest member of our team, was inspired to create this beautiful rememberence of our eagle. Dan Varland photo.

The following week I emailed PAWS and asked how the beak injury might have occurred. Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Emily Meredith wrote back, saying We really have no idea but it must have been a significant trauma to cause that much damage to the bone.

While returning this eagle to the wild was a lost cause, the PAWS Wildlife Center has many successes. Check out the Facebook by PAWS Wildlife Naturalist Anthony Denice on National American Eagle Day (June 20).

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