A baby bald eagle was rescued Thursday in dramatic fashion as wildlife experts raced against the setting sun and an approaching storm after it got a leg stuck in a branch in its nest at the U.S. National Arboretum.
Known as DC4, the eaglet had gotten its leg “lodged in a Y-shaped stick” in part of the nest, according to wildlife experts from the American Eagle Foundation. The group helps to manage a live camera feed of the eagle nest at the arboretum and because of the video, experts realized Thursday afternoon that something was wrong.
“They noticed it was a little hung up,” said Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist at the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment. After watching it for an hour and seeing that its mother — known as First Lady — wasn’t able to free it, experts decided to dispatch a team to go up and rescue it.
Two professional climbers, along with experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, helped in getting the eaglet from the nest in an 80-foot-tall tree.
Rauch said a challenge was the storm that was about to hit the region as the daylight faded. Plus, it was a hard, tall climb.
About 8:10 p.m., a tree climber reached the eaglet as wildlife experts talked the climber through the rescue process via a walkie-talkie. The eaglet was brought down in a carrier bag and kept overnight before an exam Friday.
The eaglet’s right foot is a bit swollen, probably because of “all the pulling and tugging trying to free itself,” said Al Cecere, head of the American Eagle Foundation. It appeared to have no broken bones, he said, and is “sitting upright naturally.”
Officials expect to return the eaglet to its nest in a few days, but more tests and exams were planned, officials said.
As DC4 was being rescued, Rauch said its sibling, DC5, “slept through the whole ordeal.” Mama bird First Lady watched from another tree. Papa bird Mr. President soared around the area, officials said.
Rauch said he’d never seen such an incident unfold on camera, in which a baby bird is unable to free itself. It surely happens in the wild, he said, but a live camera feed isn’t available to document it.
Some followers of the live feed criticized wildlife experts, saying human intervention wasn’t needed, and nature should take its course.
Dave Yorks wrote on Facebook that he was “not displeased by the rescue” but was a “little surprised by it,” noting that officials have put disclaimers on the eagle camera to warn viewers that anything can happen in the wild.
In this case, Rauch said, the camera gave experts a chance to see the problem and figure out how to help. It’s not uncommon for baby chicks to die in their first year because they starve or get eaten by prey after falling from a nest.
“I’m sure there are lots of times in the wild that chicks don’t make it, and we never know why,” Rauch said.