Haines Sees A Spike in Birds Needing Rescue

The American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines has seen such a dramatic increase in bird rescues that they’re asking for the public’s help. The foundation plans to form a volunteer Avian Rescue Team to help respond to the unusually high number of injured birds.

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Eagle Foundation staff and visiting vet Michelle Oakley examine an injured eagle. (Courtesy American Bald Eagle Foundation)
Eagle Foundation staff and visiting vet Michelle Oakley examine an injured eagle. (Courtesy American Bald Eagle Foundation)

The word that Eagle Foundation staff keep using to describe the spike in bird rescues is “intense.”

“Yeah it’s been a wave of birds, just very intense,” said raptor curator Chloe Goodson.

They say, in the past, they’ve been called to one or two bird rescues throughout the entire year. So far this year, they’ve done 16 bird rescues. That includes eagles, ravens, hummingbirds, and more.

“Recently there’s just been an explosion of birds,” Goodson said. “It’s not uncommon to see one or two a week.”

“I’ve been here seven years and this is busiest we’ve ever been with injured birds,” said Eagle Foundation Director Cheryl McRoberts.

The past week alone has been a record-breaking one, McRoberts says. They’ve rescued three eagles and one raven.

“For the past few eagles it’s been a lot of trauma,” Goodson said. “Like, probably got hit by a car, probably ran into something.”

Education and Outreach Coordinator Leia Minch went on the most recent eagle rescue. The foundation got a call from police about an injured bird near Mud Bay Road.

“So we went down there, put a net over it — you get control of the head to get a towel over it,” Minch said. “There’s kind of a theory with raptors that what they can’t see they can’t fear. So you want to cover up their visual senses. And then get them in a crate and take them here to do triage. You take good notes so that the vets down in Sitka kind of have an idea of what’s going on with the bird.”

There’s no full time veterinarian in Haines, so the foundation sends injured eagles to the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka. The center said on their Facebook page that June was their busiest month ever, with 20 injured bald eagles being sent in. So far in July, they’ve admitted six eagles.

The Haines Eagle Foundation staff say they don’t know what is causing the dramatic increase in injured bird calls. They say it could partly be that people are more aware that the foundation does bird rescues.

“I would lean toward that there’s more awareness going on,” Minch said. “Another thing to think about is this a really warm, dry year. So food availability might not be as good as it has been in previous years.”

Local bird watcher and counter Pam Randles thinks food scarcity could have something to do with it. She says this summer, she’s observed more desperate behavior in birds searching for food. She’s seen birds fighting over food, eagles trying to steal fish from people, and other risky behavior. It’s speculation, but Randles says that kind of risk taking could lead to more injuries.

Whatever the cause, the staff at the eagle foundation have decided they need more manpower to deal with the influx of avian injuries.

“We do need help,” Goodson said.

She says volunteers on the Avian Rescue Team will be trained in how to handle an injured bird and bring it to the foundation. Having a few more people on call to help will take some of the burden off of the foundation’s three trained raptor handlers.

The foundation has set up a cell phone that they’ll pass around to staff and volunteers. Whoever has the phone will be the on-call raptor rescuer.

“On the last eagle that we had, it was a Sunday and everybody was off [work,]” said McRoberts. “And I got the [injured bird] phone call and I was in a panic. I was running around knocking on doors trying to find help. So if we had some volunteers that would really be helpful.”

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Avian Rescue Team in Haines, you can call the foundation at 907-766-3094 or stop by in person.

Emily Files is a reporter at KHNS in Haines.

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