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Revisiting the successful bald eagle fledgling rescue at Del Valle Regional Park

Park staff worked around fallen branches, debris to recover eaglet

Staff members of Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore lauded the outcome of a recent bald eagle fledgling rescue -- a mission that kept park officials and nearby residents on their toes until the retrieval was complete and the animal's recovery period was over.

The eaglet rescue has since been deemed a success by park staff. It was made possible by nearby ranch managers, Del Valle park biologists and a medical team at Lindsay Wildlife Hospital in Walnut Creek.

The nest was already deemed at risk by park officials because previous nests have fallen from the same pine tree over the last several years. It was on June 11 that a collapsed tree was spotted by close-by ranch managers who alerted park staff.

"A huge trunk and branch supporting the nest collapsed, likely in one of our recent high-wind events," said Doug Bell, wildlife program manager with the East Bay Regional Park District. "When we arrived, we could see the eagle possibly trapped with the debris branches."

While eagle rescues at regional parks are not so common, their location can make them susceptible to environmental changes.

"An eagle's nest is a large structure high in a tree, so a lot of natural events can happen, such as lightning strikes, high winds, or extreme events like ever increasing wildland fires which of course can overtake a nest tree and torch it," Bell said.

After locating the bald eagle fledgling, Bell and wildlife biologist David Riensche coordinated the rescue together.

"We devised a plan whereby Dave would scramble above the eagle and come down-slope to it, while I would approach it from below," Bell said.

Before Bell and Riensche were able to make it down to the location, ranch managers and park naturalist Alex Collins kept watch on the eaglet in the event that it moved and injured itself more.

"This is a safety precaution for the eaglet because you never know what an eaglet might try to do when you approach it," Bell said. "We didn't want it to fly off and get into more trouble."

Once Bell and Riensche arrived at the location, they attempted to recover the eaglet from the fallen debris. Bell recalled, "As we got closer to the bird it began to wiggle through the network of branches, just as Dave was able to take hold of its wings I came up from below and managed to wrap my hands around its legs and control its feet and talons to prevent it doing any harm to us or itself."

After the two had securely grabbed the bird, it was still wrapped in branches and debris and required detangling to be pulled out -- the most difficult part of the rescue, according to Bell.

"We still had to disentangle it from everything without letting go of anything," he said. Once they were able to free the eaglet from the fallen tree, it was transported to Lindsay Wildlife Hospital.

The hospital conducted several tests on the eagle, as well as X-rays and found a fracture to the bird's left carpometacarpus -- or its distal wing bone. A pin was inserted into the wing bone that helped to heal the fracture; the pin was removed once the bone healed.

"The eaglet was deemed ready to be released in just two and half weeks since its injury," Bell said. Once fully healed, the bird was brought back to the area of the fallen tree and released. Bell said nearby ranchers have even reported seeing the eaglet flying around the area.

Upon successful completion of the rescue, Bell felt "relieved and misty-eyed with joy to know the eagle family was reunited."

"As the bald eagle population increases, particularly in human-use areas, we can expect more such eagle-human encounters, both good (rescues) and bad (illegal actions)," he said.