On a day of record heat late last month, an eaglet, still unable to fly, fled its nest high up in a ponderosa pine and fell into Eric Horsted and Michael Perry’s backyard in Millwood.
The next day, another eaglet from the same nest also plummeted to the ground.
With a sprinkler, a bowl of water, some fish guts and the help of a local veterinarian’s office, Horsted and Perry have kept the birds healthy as they grow and “chase each other around like rambunctious teenagers,” Horsted said.
The experience of the eaglets in the Millwood backyard was not unusual during June’s intense heatwave that hit the Inland Northwest.
Young bald eagles, not ready to leave the nest, can find themselves with no shade. And with black feathers, the adolescent birds find themselves scorching, said Janie Veltkamp, founding director of Birds of Prey Northwest.
With dangerous heat and no other choice, the flightless eaglets jump from the nest to escape the blaring sun, ending up isolated, starving and extremely dehydrated on the ground.
In just the past few weeks, Birds of Prey Northwest, a bird rescue organization based in St. Maries, has rescued 14 eaglets that fled their nests, likely to escape the heat, Veltkamp said.
After calling the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, which relates such instances to private rehab organizations, Horsted and Perry were put in touch with Marilyn Omlor, a licensed veterinary technician with the VCA Ponti Animal Hospital. She said at one point they were getting 20 calls a day related to juvenile bald eagles, multiple species of hawks and other young birds jumping out of nest due to the heat.
Horsted bought multiple trout from Costco and cut them up to feed the eaglets.
Although the sense of stewardship is a cool feeling, they still want to make sure dependencies aren’t born, said Horsted, a television writer and producer who has worked on shows including “Futurama” and “black-ish.”
“We would come out in the morning and they would be right outside the kitchen window just waiting for food,” he said. “So we dialed back some of the feeding, then basically cut them off from food because we learned that their parents are also still feeding them.”
The eaglets are finally showing signs of leaving the yard.
One has begun to fly. The other is able to jump into branches.
Birds of Prey Northwest has been one of the main sources for help.
“We give special fluids by injection, special vitamins by injection, we tube them with a tube into their stomach if they are starving and basically let them recover here, let their feathers finish coming down, let them practice flying in an aviary and in a few weeks they are ready to be returned,” Veltkamp said.
One of the many eagles that found refuge in the center is a 12-week-old male named Journey, who jumped from his nest in Nine Mile Falls a few weeks ago.
After receiving the extensive care he needed at the center in St. Maries and finding flight, Journey was ready to return. Even though eagles reach the ability to fly at around 10 weeks old, they aren’t necessarily ready to hunt, Veltkamp said, adding that it is an important part of their development to return to the nest after their first few flights.
On Friday, Veltkamp gently but firmly held Journey as they walked to the back porch of Diana Gigler, overlooking the Spokane River and just above the nest the eaglet had fallen from.
Muscles strengthened and feathers down, Journey lifted away from Veltkamp’s arms in an effortless yet powerful flight, gliding over the forest he knows as home.
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