On the way back from Albany Monday evening, I came upon a wounded bald eagle in the ditch along Route 9J south of Schodack Landing.
The bird seemed to be struggling with an injured wing. It was nearly dark, and the eagle then jumped off a steep ledge at the River’s edge and disappeared. I marked the spot and arranged to meet two DEC staffers on Tuesday, along the high bluffs.
I was 90% sure that we wouldn’t find anything upon returning to the spot on the ledge that I’d marked. But after standing there for a few minutes, we spotted the big bird in a tree about 50 feet below us.
Our presence caused the eagle to jump out of the tree and have a very awkward landing. Then it began to scramble down the bank toward the railroad tracks.
There was no way for the three of us to descend over the cliff, but fortunately we had two vehicles and three cell phones, so one person stayed up on the ledge to keep track of the bird while the other two of us drove off north and south to try and find a point of river access.
I located a spot where we could make the descent, but it was half a mile south of the eagle’s location. After scrambling down the bank, we had a long walk north along the tracks in 30 mph winds with freezing rain hitting us in the face and trains passing at frightening speeds. Pretty soon I was frozen stiff, and wondering if we might perish and end up in an unfortunate local newspaper obituary (not my preferred way to go).
By the time we caught up with the eagle it was perched on the railroad tracks, and we were concerned that it would be struck by a train. After we managed to scare it off the tracks, it took refuge in a nearby pond. Eagles don’t swim well, but the bird managed to climb up on a dead tree and there it sat for about 10 minutes. Finally, it moved off the tree back onto dry land; but every time we approached it would get back in the water.
After a few trips back-and-forth across the pond, the bird was so tired that we were able to throw a coat over it.
When you turn an eagle on its back and cover its head, it becomes completely submissive, so it didn’t struggle anymore. Eagles have really serious talons, and I was amazed to see them up close.
We then had to march back the half-mile along the tracks and climb up a steep muddy 100-ft. bank to our vehicles. One of the DEC folks carried the wrapped-up bird on his lap while the other drove. I came home, threw all my clothes into the washer, took a bath, and got under the covers to thaw out.
The DEC folks called to report that the eagle was delivered to a vet in the Albany area who works with them on injured raptors. They did an X-ray, and apparently there are no broken bones—just flesh wounds—so the prognosis for recovery is good. The eagle will probably get released back into the same area in a couple of months or so; I hope to be there for that event. The bird had bands on both legs, so they have a complete history on the eagle. The State knows most of these birds (and where they live) extremely well.
The entire time, I was so focused on the rescue that I forgot I had a cell phone in my pocket capable of shooting photos, and even some video... But the weather was so nasty it's not clear if the results would have been worthwhile. This was the worst day of the year to get involved with something like this. Once the bird is stabilized I plan to go up for a visit, and will take some photos.
NOTE: For more info from the New York State Department of Conservation on bald eagles, click here.