Two eagles, stuck in a death lock in the chilly waters of the Campbell River with their talons entangled, were rescued thanks to the efforts of a local couple.
Ed and Jo Ivanisko, whose Maple Street home is on the banks of the Campbell River, were alerted by Brenda Hancock, a frequent walker of the riverside trail, that there were two large bald eagles tangled up in the water close to shore.
"There were a lot of people walking the trail that day and I don't know how they could not have seen them, they were right there," said Ed, who immediately went home to put on his fishing waders and gloves while Jo called Mountainaire Avian Rescue in Comox.
"Their talons were tangled up together in the marshy undergrowth along the shore line," said Ed. "They had been there a long time. They were visibly shivering, you could see the water rippling at the edge of their wings. It was high tide and I didn't know if they fell there or floated there."
Ed realized there was no time to wait for the bird rescue crew to come all the way from Comox, a 45-minute car drive away, so he ventured into the freezing water with a blanket and a towel in an effort to get them out. He assigned Jo to the camera and to ward off trail walkers who had dogs with them.
When Ed reached them "they got really excited and started flailing around and ended up untangling themselves," he said. "They hopped up the bank, but just stayed there because they were too exhausted to fly."
Jo said she was trying to get good photographs but really wanted to just see the "spectacular sight" and not just through a camera lens. "They separated instantly, one went one way, one went the other way and you could tell the smaller one was in much worse shape," she said.
The bird rescue team arrived, bringing along two plastic dog kennels to transport the injured and hypothermic eagles to the rescue centre. And while the sicker of the two eagles was picked up right away, the other eagle actually went back into the water and swam to the other side of the river.
They were at first amazed at the sight of an eagle swimming the front crawl and then deeply concerned when another eagle started dive bombing the helpless creature.
Ed then attempted another rescue. He got in his canoe and paddled across the river to the exhausted eagle.
"By this time she had gone ashore to hide from the attacking eagle," said Ed. "I got out and found her in the underbrush. She only had enough energy left to hiss at me once. I put my fleece jacket around her and off we paddled back to the other side of the river where I handed her over to the MARS rescuer."
Pat Wager of MARS said that both the eagles, one weighing 5.39 kilograms and the other 5.89 kilograms, were generally in good shape, but exhausted and hypothermic. Wager said they would not have lasted much longer in the water.
"It is common for eagles to lock talons and it is difficult for them to release," Wager said. "They probably fell into the river while fighting. They often die by tumbling out of the sky together."
The MARS volunteers estimated the eagles to be five to six years old.
"The smaller one was just reaching breeding age and had one black feather left on her head," said Wager. "The other one was older but still a young adult. As they warmed up the young female started bleeding from her leg and that can be quite serious."
An eagle's blood does not clot the same way a human's does, said Wagers, adding that they can bleed out from a small wound.
Wager said the other older female had some flesh wounds to her wing and back, perhaps sustained by the other eagle during a mid-air fight, or from the other eagle dive bombing her while she was helpless in the water.
The bedraggled pair were housed overnight, given a big meal, warmed up and their wounds treated. The next day they were healthy enough to be released and, fittingly, Ed was the one to free the older eagle who, just a day before and wearing his coat, had shared a canoe ride with him to safety.
"Both of the girls were clearly holding a grudge," said Ed. "One flew in one direction and the other flew in the opposite direction."
Before you interfere with any wildlife, the bird rescue association urges you to call MARS at 250-337-2021 or their toll-free wildlife emergency pager: 1-800-304-9968.