PELICAN LAKE, Minn. — The unexpected rescue saga began with commotion outside the Roseberrys’ picture window.
Accustomed to visits from wildlife, the Arizona family who spends summers at their cabin on Pelican Lake near Brainerd found themselves face to beak — a very sharp beak — with a baby bird in distress Thursday, June 13. This wasn’t like the finch chick Barb Roseberry once nursed with an eyedropper filled with mashed berries, however.
“We looked outside the main picture window there and looking at us is this raptor,” said Mike Roseberry, Barb’s husband. “All of a sudden we heard crows start circling around and flying and cawing and one hit the window really loud and kind of scared us all. And that’s when the little eaglet started trying to hide.”
The creature Mike called “little” could’ve been mistaken for a full-grown predator, if one didn’t know its future as an adult called for a distinctive white cap and tail. This bald eagle was likely about two months old — transforming from a fluffy gray baby weighing ounces at birth into a sleek and impressive bird of prey in that time.
Concerned for the eaglet’s well-being, the Roseberrys made contact with a retired Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, who agreed to transport the bird in a dog carrier to Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Garrison. There, Dr. Katie Baratto examined the eaglet, one of five to 10 eaglets the center usually takes in each spring. A “beak to feathers” examination revealed it to be injury-free, of a normal weight, and likely guilty of trying to take its first flight a little too soon.
Two facts led Baratto to this conclusion: the time of year and the hint of wispy baby feathers still present on the bird. Most bald eagles in Minnesota are born in April, she said, and this month is about the time the chicks are compelled to spread their wings and soar.
“This time of year when we see that, our guess is he was trying to fly and he tried a little too early,” Baratto said. “He hopped out of the nest before he should have.”
Baratto said with good health ascertained, the eaglet — which could be male or female, but it’s too early to tell — was ready to return to the nest. There are typically no concerns of rejection when it comes to raptors, she said. The challenge in this case was the height of the nest, perched near the top of a 60-year-old Norway pine.
In stepped Mike’s Tree Co., a local company Baratto said has volunteered its equipment and manpower to return eaglets to nests on numerous occasions, free of charge. With a ride to its parents’ nest secured, the eaglet returned to the shores of Pelican Lake with Wild and Free volunteer Maureen Stanley.
In the Roseberrys’ yard, excitement mounted. Neighbors of all ages congregated near the clear, calm waters of the lake, eager for the eaglet’s scheduled arrival.
When Stanley and the eaglet arrived, the volunteer cradled the raptor, wearing thick leather gloves to protect her skin from razor-sharp talons capable of tearing flesh with ease. No, it cannot be touched by little hands, Stanley explained to the excited children, and yes, the eaglet’s feet feel kind of like a chicken’s.
“His feet are what he uses to get his food, and they’re very sharp, so I’m holding his feet so he doesn’t think I’m food,” she said.
Before long, the young bird was placed into a stiff-sided cylindrical bag, the last of its unfamiliar locations before the ascent home. Austin VanScoy of Mike’s Tree Co. slowly guided the lift parallel to the tall pine until it was stretched as high as it will go. The last few feet would require a climb with an eaglet in tow. After minutes of careful positioning, VanScoy hoisted the bag and its feathered contents overhead, while a nervous sibling flapped its wings in seeming confusion over the sudden human visitor.
The eaglet took its time, but VanScoy displayed patience. He’d later reveal the raptor pecked at his fingers, and its brother or sister locked eyes with him as he dangled high above the ground.
And then it happened. With a sudden burst of energy and wings spread wide, the bird exited the bag and stepped back into the large nest.
“Those birds, you’re really supposed to stay away from them,” VanScoy said. “So it was just a humbling experience to be able to get close to one of those birds and put it back where it belongs.”