John: I dread these calls. This morning I take a call from a woman saying she found a hawk on the ground where they walk their dogs. It was there yesterday and they are worried for it. The photo on the right was sent to us from the caller. It’s clear this is nobody’s hawk, this is a GOLDEN EAGLE. First thing we do is get an address and a callback number. Then we start working the phones. We call Game, Fish, & Parks; US Fish and Wildlife Service; Rapid City Police Dispatch; the vet in Pierre that runs a raptor rehabilitation facility, everyone who needs to be in the know.
Maggie: One of the GFP Conservation Officers gives us permission to pick up the bird. Bald and golden eagles have a special level of legal protection, and I am very aware of the consequences of breaking the law. We drive to the location and as promised our caller is sitting in her car watching over the bird. We approach the bird, a bath sheet is tossed over its body and the grab is quick. Bird, towels and all are placed into a box in the vehicle.
At home, it takes two to do a triage exam. We find the left wing injured at the elbow joint and a swollen area under the right eye. I am trembling in awe at the size of this bird’s feet and wings. We call back to the GFP conservation officer. He’s working on transport to Dr. Virginia Trexler-Myron in Pierre in the morning. She is permitted by the USFWS to rehab eagles. Our SD special agent for the USFWS is also notified, which is required by law.
John: I have body grabbed our largest birds, Elise and Icarus, when necessary. Their strength and determination to escape make it nearly impossible to hold them. This golden eagle is nearly three times the size of either of them, but the fight is minimal. I know it is weak from injury and very frightened. Looking down and seeing the immense talons just inches from my fingers reminds me of this bird’s purpose: Apex Predator, Master of the Skies, Swift Hunter. I am afraid, but not for myself. I fear this bird just doesn’t have the strength to fight anymore. I’m afraid it will be too long until this bird reaches a duly licensed rehab facility.
Maggie: In addition to being an reknowned wildlife education facility, we want to be a quality raptor rehab center for western SD. Here is the GOOD NEWS: we are entering into a partnership with a local landowner. We have been offered acreage just outside Rapid City on which to build a facility! There we will add the rehab clinic to treat injured birds of prey. The landowner has always dreamed of providing a large acreage for kids and families to learn more about nature, hike, observe wildlife and hunt. We are honored to be considered worthy to partner with them.
Help make it happen. Become a volunteer, or donate a few dollars. Sponsor a school program. The plight of this golden eagle demonstrates how much this facility is needed in our area.
John: What I wanted this morning was a cup of coffee and one of my home made caramel rolls. What I got was a rare opportunity, the chance to feel a golden eagle’s warm breath, its living muscles under my hands, its innate wildness. For a moment, I touched the sky.