A bald eagle died this week after running into a power line at Taghum despite the efforts of Nelson Hydro, neighbours, and a local bird care society to save it.
Anne Bokser Wishlow, who saw it happen from her deck, says the bird was being chased by an osprey around 8 p.m. Monday, something she has witnessed before.
However, near the community hall, the eagle struck a wire.
“It was a huge light show,” she says. “The bird fully lit up. There was a big arc and the power went out in our homes and came back on right away.”
The eagle was left hanging upside down, holding on to the wire by a talon. Bokser Wishlow assumed the worst, but after a few minutes, the eagle flapped its wings.
“We went over and you could see that she was looking around,” she says.
She and husband Jason, along with neighbours Bruce and Irene Montgomery, called for help. Nelson Hydro’s Garth Georgetti responded.
“I arrived as it was starting to get dark,” Georgetti says. “It was pretty emotional. This thing was beautiful.”
Although the veteran lineman says crows, starlings, or geese occasionally strike lines, he has never seen it happen to an eagle.
He phoned the conservation office, who recommended leaving the bird be.
“We couldn’t do that. We had to give it a fighting chance,” he says. “As I was talking with them, you could actually see the eyes and head move a bit.”
Georgetti’s colleague Andrew Colgan arrived with a bucket truck, and they used insulated sticks to pry the eagle off the wire.
“The line’s energized with 25,000 volts. If we’d had to, we would have shut the power off to all of Taghum, Blewett, and Sproule Creek,” Georgetti says. “But we didn’t have to. We were able to get one stick on the ground on the wire so it didn’t slap around and Andrew was in the air and freed up each claw, one at a time.”
By this time, the bird had been clinging to the wire for close to two hours. Georgetti says as it fell, it put up its wings, and then landed belly down in the long grass on the riverbank.
“I ran over with a flashlight because I was worried it had landed in the lake,” Georgetti says. “But it was just sitting there, looking.”
They contacted conservation again, who suggested leaving it till morning, when an officer would take a look. However, they were concerned it may be vulnerable to coyotes or otherwise succumb to its injuries.
Next they called BEAKS, the Castlegar-based bird care society, where Carol Pettigrew recommended bringing it in right away.
“Carol is an amazing woman,” Bokser Wishlow says. “She’s excellent at caring for birds. She’s intelligent, thorough, very careful, and was very willing to take this eagle.”
Jason Wishlow put on protective gear to retrieve the bird, which they covered in a blanket and placed in a dog kennel provided by another neighbour, Terri Maglio, who has experience working with animals.
The bird growled a bit in the cage, but otherwise remained timid during the drive.
They arrived at the BEAKS sanctuary around 11 p.m. and Pettigrew took over.
“I just did my normal stabilizing,” she says. “It was really critical. I just talked to it, calmed it down.”
Initially she was hopeful. Although few birds survive electrocution, she did nurse one other back to health. The eagle had a small puncture wound from the shock, its leg was burned, and its talon remained stiff.
Pettigrew provided painkillers and tried to keep it hydrated and comfortable, while Maglio held it.
“That was the most amazing experience I’ve had in a very long time,” Maglio says. “It was breathtaking just to look in that bird’s eyes. I had its head in my hands and rubbed its belly. I got to sit and look at it and give it little eye signals … Carol said the bird is calm and trusts you.”
They stayed until about 3 a.m. while Pettigrew continued looking after it the rest of the night.
“I thought she was going to be okay, but at five to 9, she just died. I don’t know if it was her heart or what. It was pretty sad.”
The eagle’s mate was seen circling above when the Hydro crew arrived. Pettigrew says if they had eaglets, their future is now in doubt.
Had the bird survived, once stabilized it would have been sent to a raptor recovery centre in the Lower Mainland, she says.
Neighbours praised Pettigrew and Nelson Hydro for doing all they could.
“Those two guys did an awesome job,” Bruce Montgomery says. “They did their best. They really cared about the bird.”
Maglio adds the eagle died “in good hands … [Carol] did everything possible. She used $100 worth of products right out of her own pocket. People are not aware of this woman’s skills, knowledge, love, and her 24/7 care of these birds.”
BEAKS, which tends to injured, sick and baby birds, returning them to the wild, survives on not even a shoestring budget.
Incorporated as a non-profit society in 1998, Pettigrew ran the organization the last two years on an inheritance, and is now relying on a line of credit.
“We’re not taking all the birds right now for lack of money,” she says. “We need funding.”
They also have a wishlist of items for ongoing care on their website at beaks.kics.bc.ca.