As the blanket was pulled off the top of the dog carrier, the bald eagle inside began pecking at the door. The clicks and gurgles coming from its bright yellow beak oozed agitation and excitement. The bird’s long and painful journey was about to end with its first free flight in more than two months.
On March 15, the eagle was found on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway in Malakwa by a woman returning to the Lower Mainland from Revelstoke. After a few phone calls looking for someone who could care for the injured bird she was able to turn it over to Gary Turner, a Vernon resident who volunteers rescuing birds for the OWL Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society.
A day after being found, the eagle was on a commercial flight to Vancouver and then off to OWL’s facility in Delta.
Turner said staff told him the eagle was a mature and exceptionally large female of about eight years old. Her leg was broken, likely due to a collision with a car. The bird’s injuries were healed and it was clear she had made a full recovery.
On June 5, volunteers returned the caged bird of prey to Turner so he could release her near the area where it had been hit. On the shoulder of a rural road approximately half a kilometre off the highway, Turner opened the gate of the cage and the eagle sprang free.
She came to a stop with its talons in the dirt, looked at the small group of onlookers for a split second and then lunged off into the sky. As it wheeled south over a farmer’s field the eagle was briefly harassed by a pair of crows but a few powerful wingbeats outpaced the smaller birds and took her to the top of a tall tree.
Turner said he hoped a reunion would follow the release as mature eagles usually have an established mate and the rehabilitated bird’s could still be nearby.
Among those watching in wonder as the eagle left the cage were Colleen Turgood and her grandchildren, Aspyn and Cohen Dupuis.
“It was so cool,” Aspyn said as the trio scanned the horizon for another glimpse of the bird.
Turner’s expression as the eagle flew off showed more focus and concern than awe. He has been a volunteer with OWL for more than 20 years and recounted some bird rescues that did not have such happy endings.
Being one of the society’s few volunteers in the Southern Interior, his workload can be immense.
He sometimes receives multiple calls a day to go help injured birds. He said more volunteers assisting with rescues and transport would be greatly appreciated. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, airlifts like the one the eagle benefited from are not feasible and so the OWL volunteers are shuttling birds too and from the rehabilitation centre by car.
The work is very important to Turner. He said over 90 per cent of the injured birds he has aided were negatively affected by humans in some way, so humans should take responsibility for their recovery.
He said birds of prey like the one turned loose in Malakwa are not only majestic but also serve an important ecological niche controlling the population of rodents and other small animals.