Comox Valley Record

February is an important but tough time of year for eagles

SEMI HANGS OUT with his buddy Pedro. - Photo submitted
SEMI HANGS OUT with his buddy Pedro.
— image credit: Photo submitted

February is a very important time for our local eagle population in the Comox Valley and Campbell River.

This is a time when the eagles have survived the rigours of winter and a time that often sees them very close to starvation as they have exhausted their available food supplies. Along our shorelines the eagles are gathering and just like the fishermen are awaiting the annual herring spawn; in many local areas they can be seen hanging out to dry in trees along the estuaries and shores.

Bald eagles are well known for their strength and endurance and this has been obvious at MARS over the past year as we admitted over 50 eagles and have already treated 10 so far this year.

These eagles are extremely large powerful raptors with a wingspan of 1.8 to 2.4 metres and can weigh between three and six kilograms, the females are larger than the males.

It takes the bald eagles between four and five years to fully gain their adult plumage with their distinct white heads and tails; it is sometimes difficult to tell how old they are as they are adult-sized when they fledge from the nest.

Habitat for these birds must provide water either lakes, rivers, estuaries or shorelines. Their territory can cover several kilometres and must include perch trees along the water and a nest tree that is often inland.

Each year in late winter the eagles return from their fall migration, and re-establish bonds with their mate, or find a new territory in the case of the juveniles. During this time they will make the necessary repairs to their nest, which is rebuilt or added to each year. The adults can be seen carrying large branches in their talons in preparation for the arrival of the eaglets.

February is a time for love and the onset of the breeding season, it is also a time for us to watch some amazing acrobatics as they free fall, lock talons and serenade each other high atop the trees.

This is not such a happy time for the juvenile birds that must now fend for themselves and this often leads to interspecies fighting or sees them becoming scavengers as they hunt for an easy food source.

One of our patients admitted on New Year's Eve has quite a story to tell, and one that is becoming all too familiar this winter. Semi a three-year-old juvenile was feeding on a deer carcass along the inland highway near Horne Lake when she flew up into the path of an oncoming truck travelling at the speed limit.

Due to her huge wingspan and the height of the semi truck she was unable to gain enough elevation and she became "spread-eagled" on the windshield. Fortunately the occupants of the truck were uninjured but the eagle did not fare so well and has had a "long haul" back to recovery.

Other than multiple bruising amazingly her only other injury was a small fractured bone where the spine meets the pelvis. Obviously she was in acute pain as I attended the initial vet visit, which was conducted by Dr. Tammi Whelan of Sunrise Veterinary.

It took three of us to hold her for the examination. Semi's rehabilitation has been slow but remarkable. She had to be tube fed for several days starting with rehydrating fluids and then enriched pureed chicken, she was then force fed whole food and finally she was able to eat on her own.

She graduated from a nest of soft bedding as she would not stand and now six weeks later she is standing, flying and interacting in a flight pen with three other eagles.

This winter we seem to have rescued more eagles that have been hit by vehicles on the road as they dine on road kill; often they are hidden in the center median or in the ditches along the roadside.

Please drive with extra care if you see an eagle or other wildlife as they often will suddenly jump or fly out into the oncoming traffic. If Semi continues her progress, building up her flight stamina, we hope to release her in the Qualicum area as soon as the herring run commences ensuring her a plentiful food supply.

• • •

For the past seven years MARS has hosted a bald eagle festival to honour these magnificent birds, and again we thank BC Hydro for sponsoring the event. This year the festival is on Feb. 25 at the Maritime Heritage Centre in Campbell River from 10 to 4.

There will be guest speakers and many wildlife exhibits, in addition live ambassador birds will be in attendance, owls and a hawk from MARS and a bald eagle from Pacific North West Raptors.

Please come out to learn more about our incredible wildlife and help support our efforts to continue our work with their rescue and rehabilitation.

For more information and schedule of events, go to www.wingtips.org. To report injured wildlife, call 1-800-304-9968. For general information, dial 250-337-2021.

Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Friday.

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