Love is in the air for eagles at this time of year

February is the month when “love is in the air.”

Every eagle has to make a first flight sometime.  Photo by Jim Dubois

Every eagle has to make a first flight sometime. Photo by Jim Dubois

February is the month when “love is in the air.”

Nothing could be truer for our local bald eagle populations. Having survived the rigours of winter the eagles start to focus their attention on procreation and begin their mating rituals.

Those that are fortunate enough to have survived the winter can be seen in close proximity with their mate.

Last December was problematic for many eagles; the shortage of food sent the eagles to the dump to scavenge any morsel they could find, which often leads to battles with other eagles, resulting in severe injuries.

The garbage dumps also present other hazards from discarded household goods and sometimes they burn their feet by landing on the hot metal of machinery.

Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society has already admitted 10 eagles this year, an increase from previous years.

To celebrate the renewal of the eagle population, MARS will hold our sixth annual Eagle Fest in Campbell River on Feb. 26 at the Maritime Heritage Centre. We are dedicating this year’s Eagle Fest to the Legacy of Phoenix in memory of the young eaglet that hatched on Hornby Island last April.

Doug and Sheila Carrick have been residents on Hornby Island since 1980 and were fortunate enough to have “tree-top neighbours” living and nesting in a nearby Douglas fir tree. Their location provided a front row seat to amazing wildlife experiences observing osprey, great blue herons, cormorants, ducks and geese.

The crowning glory was the bald eagles that began nesting in their tree, and in 1990 Doug started recording detailed information on the eagles noting their activity around and in the nest, how many young were produced and how many fledged.

The eagles generally left on their summer migration in mid-August and returned around Oct. 2.

Doug’s fascination turned into a true passion and he wanted to be able to see more of the secrets hidden in the nest and the obstacles faced by the developing eaglets.

In 2004 Doug was granted permission by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection to install a closed circuit video in the nest tree once the eagles had left for the summer. From their living room television the Carricks could watch life in the nest and for the first time were able to witness the eggs being laid, then hatching and the adults raising the eaglets.

In 2006 this technology was taken another step further and was broadcast live over the Internet where it was available worldwide. This was an instant hit, enabling millions of viewers to witness things that had never been seen before and many local schools had the webcam available throughout the day to the students.

Obviously this kind of exposure does have many wonderful learning opportunities but as with all wildlife involvement it can also show the reality, vulnerability and mortality of wildlife.

On April 29, 2010, the world witnessed the birth of a tiny chick called Phoenix. It thrived wonderfully well for the first two months, exercising its giant wings and jumping around the nest.

Suddenly Phoenix stopped exercising and feeding and within a few days she died, a shock to all who were watching. The following morning, Dan the tree climber brought the body down from the tree.

The Carricks’ website was inundated with an outpouring of love for the eaglet and requests for more information and how they could help. Just like the Phoenix in mythology, the bird rose from the flames and ash and left a legacy behind.

MARS was involved in the recovery of the eaglet; it was taken to our rehabilitation centre for a preliminary examination and then flown by helicopter to the provincial lab for testing. It was determined that it was a female eaglet and had succumbed to a mycotic fungal infection and also pneumonia and would not have recovered.

MARS would like to thank the Carricks for referring the public, who wished to make a donation to our centre, which has helped us care for other eagles and I am sure we will be admitting many more before the year is out.

Doug Carrick will be one of the featured speakers at our Eagle Fest. He has amazing knowledge and stories about his birds.

He has also written a fun and most informative book titled The Eagles of Hornby Island, which is available at the festival and local bookstores.

For more information, visit www.wingtips.org. To report injured wildlife, call 1-800-304-9968; for all other calls, phone 250-337-2021.

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