I’ve had the good fortune to rescue a variety of the wild birds indigenous to the eastern Sierras. Many hummingbirds have found their way on to my porch and into the spider webs artfully spun in the corners of the windows. I’ve plucked these little puffs of feathers from the sticky threads and sent them on their way numerous times. ( Yes, I live with some honkin’ big arachnids; ‘Shelob,’ from “The Lord of the Rings,” comes to mind. But, I don’t begrudge even them a home, and as long as they don’t ask to borrow the car, watch tv, or make off with one of my pets, we’re cool.) Snowbirds, wrens, starlings, sparrows, robins, quail…..I’ve wiped cat drool off loads of them, and dug even more out of the snow after their games of , “TAG, you’re it!” with my living room window resulted in nothing but their tail feathers poking up from the drifts below.
Many years ago, an immature Prairie falcon chose a telephone pole at the edge of my driveway into which he executed a spectacular, body slamming crash that caused enough damage to his chest muscles to put him on the permanently disabled list. (However, the damage wasn’t enough to prevent him from becoming the resident “stud” at the Sacramento zoo, the lucky fellow!)) His capture came off quite easily, considering his “predatory bird” status. He couldn’t fly, and since falcons aren’t known for their running ability, I simply chased him down, threw a shirt over his head, and “voila!”… a falcon in arms. He was my first raptor rescue.
Another, more recent, successful rescue was in snatching a young barn owl from a tree, where he was swinging upside down, by one claw, like a feathery wind chime. His wing was broken and he was totally baffled by his predicament, so plucking him like a ripe pear didn’t constitute much of a challenge. It was, I’m sure, embarrassing for such a dignified predator to be captured while in a most decidedly undignified position! Shortly thereafter, a friend asked for assistance in wrangling a good sized, grey owl fledgling into a box in order to prevent him from using Highway 395 as a runway for his maiden flight. Most surely, it would have been his one and only flight attempt.
Once, I stuffed a tiny Sawhet owl down my bra after finding him stunned by the roadside. Evidently, he had been caught in the slipstream of a large vehicle, and had been tumbled and rolled in a wave of air, until it dropped him in the weeds. The “girls” were the only place I had to confine him until I could get him to the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Center. He flapped and struggled for the first few miles of the trip, but being only 4 inches tall, he was absolutely no match for the double D twins!
Since I had “all this experience” in bird rescue, I saw absolutely NO problem in accompanying Officer Dan Tackitt across a wind whipped field to rescue an injured golden eagle. I took the proper precaution of bringing along my Martha Stewart garden gloves, a bath towel and a cardboard box. Piece o’ cake.
We spotted the eagle immediately, about 150 yards off the road, hunched against the wind, in the late evening light. From that distance, he didn’t look so formidable… about the size of a tree stump, maybe? Our plan was to have Dan distract him while I crept up from behind and wrap him in the towel. My garden gloves were a safeguard against dagger sharp talons and slashing beak. Yup, they’d work, alrighty, on an eagle that was becoming the size of a bale of hay with every step I took towards him.
My first attempt at capture was a dismal failure. I didn’t get within 50 feet of him before “Goldie” realized something was going on, and launched himself into the wind, sailing about 15 feet directly over my head, allowing me an unfettered view of those hand-size meat hooks dangling at the end of his legs. Hmmm. Garden gloves.
His landing was impressive for its awfulness. The poor thing hit the ground, bounced and tumbled like a ball coming off of soccer great, David Beckham’s, foot. He seemed unable to keep his balance, and I had noticed he didn’t flap his wings, but had simply spread them to, ohhhh, let’s say, the wing span of a Piper Cub airplane, to catch the wind. Oh, yeah, this bath towel was gonna do the trick! One wing alone was larger than the entire towel, and I was going to wrap BOTH wings with it? Good thinking.
Our second attempt at capture was no more successful than the first, and Goldie was now in a position to evade us altogether. He had landed near a fence and ditch that, should he sail away again, would put him beyond our reach in a field that we had no access into, unless Dan simply drove through both the irrigation ditch and the three strand, barbed wire fence. Perhaps we could drive up quickly, I could leap out of the SUV and wrap the washcloth around him, or over his head? Fortunately, I didn’t attempt that particular Annie Oakley trick. Dan would have had to haul me to a care facility with an important something broken, missing, or, at the very least, out of place.
We decided to give it one more try, with me attempting, a third time, to sneak up on him, my diminutive washcloth at the ready, and Dan standing by with the cardboard box. So, I tip-toed as quietly and as delicately as possible in hurricane force winds, across a field of blowing dust, mined with innumerable critter holes, to maneuver into position behind a bird that, from my vantage point, appeared only slightly smaller than a shetland pony. I stopped about a foot behind him, undetected, so far. Contemplating his size, the power of those talons, and the ripping ability of his beak, I decided I needed more help. I started praying; to everyone, and anybody, I thought would be useful in such a situation, because my scrap of cloth and puny gloves were laughable protection against what was undoubtedly going to be a very unhappy, very big bird.
I am an equal opportunity pray-er… denomination doesn’t enter into my begging. Buddha, Krishna or Foghorn Leghorn are, at any given time, possible backups to whatever I am praying for, and about. However, it was the Catholic patron saint of animals that popped into my head. “So, St. Francis,” I says, “tell this big guy I’m only here to keep him from being recycled by coyotes or bobcats. Thank you. Amen, ” and I jumped, and landed squarely on top of that eagle before he had a chance to see me comin’, and thanks to whomever, I got his good wing first with that little, itty bitty piece of material, and was able to grab his injured wing, but then….. OH! that beak snapped around and opened and clacked shut with a sound like a pistol shot, and those serial killer eyes drilled into mine and I knew I’d best STILL be talkin’ to St. Frank, or Wile E. Coyote, about this bird! So I chattered along, holding him as far away from my face as I could, telling Frank thanks, and help, help, help and here comes Dan with the box!
Like so much feathered and taloned Kentucky Fried Chicken, we rather unceremoniously stuffed this magnificent, thoroughly unhappy raptor into a flimsy paper box that was only slightly bigger than he was, ever mindful of that beak and the proximity of those talons that could surely puncture a couple of tires on an eighteen wheeler. Brave man, that Dan Tackitt; he was handling this monstrous feather pile without the benefit of Martha Stewart signature brand pruning gloves or a strip of cloth. I was praying the eagle wouldn’t catch on to either of those facts. However, he was packing a gun, and wearing a protective vest…….