Friday, May 27, 2016

Intervention at Decorah North Nest

As watchers at the Decorah North Nest know, female eagle Mom North brought some tainted prey into the nest on the afternoon of May 25th. She fed DN2, who promptly died, and ate some herself. Until we shut the cams off, horrified watchers saw a very sick Mom North struggling in the nest.

Neil Rettig and veterinarian Laura Johnson monitored the nest through a private channel. As the night passed, Mom North began to recover from whatever the prey had been tainted with. After she flew off the nest on the morning of May 26th, we knew we needed to make a plan to recover DN2. We wanted to autopsy the eaglet to determine the poisoning agent and prevent Mom from feeding DN2 to DN1 and killing DN1 as well.

The morning started with a call to Kike Arnal, who had climbed into the north nest last fall. Like Neil, he expressed some concern about going into the nest itself and recommended that we try to recover DN2's body with a hook or catchpole. Fortunately, Neil was available to climb. Several of us are versed in rope technique, but the North Nest is very tricky to access and Neil is the only one of us with tree spike experience, which he used to avoid potentially injuring the eagles with a crossbow bolt or line. While Neil, Laura, and Dave Kester made a plan, Amy Ries got busy working on the permit side of things.

Bald eagles are protected by a number of laws, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act (introduced in 1900 by an Iowa congressman). It is highly illegal to trespass on an active bald or golden eagle nest or take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, transport, or export or import any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg. The penalties are severe and may include a fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment, which is doubled for an organization. Should we be found to have broken the Bald and Golden Eagle Act, we could also lose our banding permits, which would end our banding program. While these laws may seem harsh, they have been an important part of returning the bald eagle to the American landscape, and we had no intention whatsoever of running afoul of them.

Amy contacted Deanne Endrizzi from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Pat Schlarbaum and Bruce Ehresman from the Iowa DNR. She explained the situation and outlined our plan. We would recover DN2 without going into the nest and take the body to Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine for autopsy. The Iowa State DNR and the US Fish and Wildlife Service approved our plan very quickly and we were able to recover DN2's body yesterday afternoon. It is on its way to Iowa State University now. We don't know how long it will take for the results to come back.

Parent in tree
Dave retrieving DN2 from the catchpole
Why did you intervene?
We usually don't intervene in nest life. Wild birds survive and thrive in the presence of things that seem frightening and even awful to human watchers, including bad weather, predators, injuries, and aggression. Although humans found the death of DN3 appalling, it was completely normal eagle behavior. But poisoning is not nature taking its course and all parties agreed that intervention was appropriate and allowable in this case.

What happens next?
We are continuing to monitor the nest remotely, but the camera will remain off for live viewing for the time being. Mom has been in the nest with DN1, who has been fed and looks like a healthy, alert young eagle.

DN1 in the nest on the morning of May 27, 2016. 

Thanks to Neil Rettig, Dr. Laura Johnson, Dave Kester, Kike Arnal, John Howe, Deanne Endrizzi, Bruce Ehresman, Pat Schlarbaum, Allamakee county conservation officer Burt Walters, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Dr. Steve Ensley, and Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine for their quick action and help. Your advice and experience were invaluable!

We've had some requests for the last video shot from the nest before we turned it off. This video shows an ill Mom in the nest, as well as DN2. If you find it disturbing to watch, please do not follow the link. I witnessed the event and found it very disturbing: