After an adult male bald eagle found himself weighed down by a large ice ball on his tail and stuck on an ice shelf just south of Suttons Bay on Lake Michigan in Leelanau County, Wings of Wonder volunteers came to the rescue on Feb. 1.
A YouTube video shared by Ken Scott Photography, which is run by one of the volunteers, captures the eagle’s journey — from the harrowing rescue to its time at the Wings of Wonder clinic.
Rebecca Lessard, executive director of the Empire, Michigan-based nonprofit raptor sanctuary and rehabilitation center, said finders who live on the lakeshore and watch eagles fly, were observing four eagles out on the ice the day of the rescue.
There were “two adults and two immatures” that looked like they were eating something, Lessard said. The finders then watched three of the eagles fly off, leaving one behind. After a while, Lessard said the finders got the impression that something was wrong, and got in touch with Wings of Wonder.
Two volunteers, Ken Scott and Chris Johnson, responded to the call.
“I was out of town, so Ken contacted me and we devised a plan, and then Ken contacted Chris for an assist,” Lessard said.
“Both of them are really skilled with the outdoors, and Chris is a retired park ranger, so he has rescue experience. Between the two of them they had the right gear … Ken Scott waded out there into the water, pushing those big pancake icebergs aside to get out in front of the eagle, who was out on the ice shelf.”
Lessard said that at that point, they still didn’t know what was wrong with the bird, but Scott waded out slowly and Johnson navigated the lakeshore with a blanket and handling gloves. Together they worked to guide the eagle back to the shore.
“It was a really successful rescue, that had many opportunities of going wrong.” Lessard said.
Once the eagle was off the ice shelf, Lessard said volunteers found the ball of ice attached to it. Scott and Johnson had a padded crate ready, and brought the eagle back to the clinic for food and rest.
After spending the night in the clinic, Lessard said the hefty ice ball on the eagle had not yet thawed out — although a lot of the ice that was on his feather tips had.
Jim Manley, another Wings of Wonder volunteer, came to assist in bathing the eagle in warm water to help remove the ice ball. Lessard said the eagle stayed in the heated clinic for another night, before being taken to a flight pen Feb. 3.
“To me, it was amazing when he jumped out of that crate and his tail feathers were beautiful, that ice had not done any damage to his feathers,” Lessard said.
She added that if feathers are lost or broken, it may impact an eagle’s hunting abilities, but this eagle’s feather condition “stayed really great.”
Volunteers were also concerned about frostbite, because they don’t know for sure how long the eagle was out on the ice, but Lessard said the raptor was fine.
“Feet are fine, no skin damage, he just had a bowling ball (of ice) under him,” she said.
Lessard added that volunteers believe the ice ball weighed about 8 pounds, “and a male eagle weighs about 9 pounds.”
“(We’ve) had grounded birds before, but nothing that extreme… We also had very extreme temperatures,” Lessard said.
However, she said the adult eagle is “gorgeous” and really calm male who has been a “really, really good patient.”
A public release is planned for the eagle at the Suttons Bay High School parking lot at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“Come witness this gorgeous Bald Eagle, survivor of the latest polar vortex, fly free once again….everyone is welcome!”
While Wings of Wonder focuses primarily on raptors, but Lessard said they are looking to expand and open their doors to other threatened or endangered birds this year.
Contact Aleanna Siacon: ASiacon@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AleannaSiacon.
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