A routine inspection of the Lake Como dam turned into a rescue operation on Monday for a young bald eagle.
Bitter Root Irrigation District began releasing irrigation water on Monday. A few of his employees inspecting the base of the dam for something unusual found something they hadn’t expected to see.
The 2 year old eagle was on its back with its talons pointed in their direction.
They radioed the District Manager, John Crowley, who contacted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Jesse Varnado of the non-profit Wild Skies Raptor Center Potomac responded to the roadblock to safely capture the eagle.
“He was very good at handling it,” Crowley said. “It was obvious he knew what he was doing… Jesse told us that it was not uncommon to find an eagle on its back like this. He does this to repel predators.
On Tuesday, the eagle was in the rehabilitation center at the Wild Skies Raptor Center.
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Center founder and executive director Brooke Tanner said she couldn’t feel any fractures and the bird appeared to be in relatively good health otherwise. Blood tests showed it contained lead in his system, but not at toxic levels.
“This is one of those cases where it just isn’t cut and dried,” Tanner said. “At this point he’s standing, but he’s not interested in food.”
The eagle may have collided with a car or other object and ruptured its air sac. He could also have been shot. Tanner said the injury from the small balls on a shotgun can be difficult to see.
If the eagle doesn’t improve overnight, Tanner will take him to Missoula for x-rays.
“Right now we’re going through the list and trying to figure out exactly what’s going on,” Tanner said.
Retired veterinarian Estelle Shuttleworth, of Hamilton, has worked with Tanner on several rescues this winter, including a big horn chick that fell from its nest near Hamilton Pack and a great gray owl that was struck by a vehicle and has lost an eye.
In both cases, Tanner was successful in releasing both birds into the wild.
“She’s an excellent rehabber,” Shuttleworth said. “It’s a little early to know how the eagle is going to do. The prognosis would be reserved. Tomorrow will one day be revealing of the direction the bird will take.
Shuttleworth said it had been nice for her to return to veterinary medicine working with the Wild Skies Raptor Center.
“I didn’t work on birds earlier in my career so it’s a hands-on learning experience,” she said. “They’re all air – weak, hollow bones. It feels good to help out in whatever way I can. The key is to get them back to the wild as soon as possible.”
An eagle can heal after breaking its air sac.
“They’ll just be out of breath for a while,” Tanner said. “The internal bleeding is the biggest worry. This could potentially lead to infection… The birds we’ve seen that have collided with vehicles or fences tend to heal quite well if you just give them time.
If the eagle survives, Tanner said she would take him back to the Bitterroot Valley to be released.