With the sheet thrown back and cage door opened, a once-injured adult bald eagle needed only but a few seconds to clear its 6-foot wingspan from its temporary entrapment, gain its footing, and then, without even a hint of hesitation, off it soared.
About a dozen well-wishers braved the icy winds of a chilly Saturday morning to cheer on and wave so long to the 12-pound female, which swiftly rose above a nearby parking lot and, riding on a steady surge of wind gusts, made a bee-line directly toward a tree-lined ridge on the south end of San Juan Island, not far from where it was recovered, severely injured, just two months earlier.
“Being able to have had a part in the rescue was huge for me,” said Kathy Farron, a local realtor who just happened to be at the south end of the island, checking on a listing, when a series of distinctive but unfamiliar shrieks pierced the quiet of Cape San Juan that day.
“It sounded so different than a normal eagle cry,” Farron said. “I realized that it had to be a cry of distress.”
Sure enough, with help and assistance of the property owner next door, she discovered a pair bald eagles wedged and trapped between a heavy thicket of shrubs and a very large set of boulders, their talons locked together tightly.
Instinctively, they called Wolf Hollow.
Shona Aiken, education coordinator of the wildlife rehabilitation center, said it’s not uncommon for bald eagles, whether in a mating ritual or territorial dispute, to lock talons in the air. She said that it was evident at the scene, however, that there was no love lost between the two birds.
“This was more of a fight,” she said.
One of the birds broke free and flew off while the rescue was under way. The other suffered an injury to its leg that left the lower limb “dangling” by its side and effectively useless. Aiken said the animal would have had “zero” chance of capturing or holding onto prey in the wild given the extent of the injury. Fortunately, x-rays showed no broken bones.
After two months of intensive care, treatment and rehab, the bald eagle, the 16th treated at Wolf Hollow in 2012, was back in top-flight form, cleared for takeoff and headed back into the wild.
Only two of the 16 bald eagle patients cared for in 2012 are still undergoing treatment. Coincidentally, those two were also found with their talons locked, screaming and thrashing around in the woods near San Juan Island’s Carter Beach Road. Each is recuperating from wing and foot injuries.