A baby bald eagle was rescued Thursday in dramatic fashion as wildlife experts raced against the setting sun and an approaching storm after it got a leg stuck in a branch in its nest at the U.S. National Arboretum.
“They noticed it was a little hung up,” said Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist at the District’s Department of Energy and Environment. After watching it for an hour and seeing that its mother — known as First Lady — wasn’t able to free it, experts decided to dispatch a team to go up and rescue it.
Two professional climbers, along with experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, helped in getting the eaglet from the nest in an 80-foot-tall tree.
Rauch said a challenge was the storm that was about to hit the region as the daylight faded. Plus, it was a hard, tall climb.
About 8:10 p.m., a tree climber reached the eaglet as wildlife experts talked the climber through the rescue process via a walkie-talkie. The eaglet was brought down in a carrier bag and kept overnight before an exam Friday.
The eaglet’s right foot is a bit swollen, probably because of “all the pulling and tugging trying to free itself,” said Al Cecere, head of the American Eagle Foundation. It appeared to have no broken bones, he said, and is “sitting upright naturally.”
Officials returned the eaglet to its nest Friday evening.
As DC4 was being rescued, Rauch said, its sibling, DC5, “slept through the whole ordeal.” Mama bird First Lady watched from another tree. Papa bird Mr. President soared around the area, officials said.
Rauch said he’d never seen such an incident unfold on camera, in which a baby bird is unable to free itself. It surely happens in the wild, he said, but a live camera feed isn’t available to document it.
Some followers of the live feed criticized wildlife experts, saying human intervention wasn’t needed, and nature should take its course.
Dave Yorks wrote on Facebook that he was “not displeased by the rescue” but was a “little surprised by it,” noting that officials have put disclaimers on the eagle camera to warn viewers that anything can happen in the wild.
In this case, Rauch said, the camera gave experts a chance to see the problem and figure out how to help. It’s not uncommon for baby chicks to die in their first year because they starve or get eaten by predators after falling from a nest.
“I’m sure there are lots of times in the wild that chicks don’t make it, and we never know why,” Rauch said. Without the live camera feed, he said, “we would never have known what happened.”
On Facebook, several watchers of the live eagle camera expressed concern about seeing the eaglet stuck and how it would be saved.
Carolyn Mancini thanked wildlife experts for the detailed updates they gave throughout Thursday afternoon and evening, writing “I’ve been sick over this all night!”
Some called wildlife experts and climbers heroes and offered their prayers for a safe rescue and recovery. Others remarked how lonely the remaining chick appeared in the nest as one of the parents looked on early Friday morning.
The rescued eaglet had an exam Friday at the Maryland Zoo and Cecere said “everything appears to be generally good.” He said the eaglet had a small cut on its leg and minor swelling from “all of the tugging,” but no serious injuries.
The eaglets were born late last month. The birds once were considered endangered but have made a comeback in recent years, experts said.
These two eaglets are the fourth and fifth that the couple has raised at the arboretum.
Another eaglet was born in March in a tree on the grounds of a D.C. police facility in Southwest Washington. Its sibling did not hatch.
Cecere said he wasn’t concerned that the bird would become “humanized” because it would not be able to see any person while it was being fed. A person would wear camouflage if the bird needed to be fed while out of the nest, he said, but the bird has been well-fed and has lots of food still to digest.
Eagle experts said most birds, including eagles, have a poor sense of smell and that it is unlikely the bird, its siblings or parents will have any response to its having been taken out of the nest. Cecere said he’s “never had a problem with parents accepting their young” even after they’ve come into contact with humans.
Cecere said without the rescue, the bird would have been stuck through the night.
“It would totally have ruined its leg,” Cecere said, adding that it also could have died. “In the end, it all worked out well.”