Into every eaglet’s life a little rain must fall

Heavy rains destroyed a Whitehorse family’s home last Thursday. Fortunately, armed with a cherry picker truck and a little wire, a pair of…

Heavy rains destroyed a Whitehorse family’s home last Thursday.

Fortunately, armed with a cherry picker truck and a little wire, a pair of conservation officers supported by Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. employees were able to string the place back together, saving the lives of two youngsters in the process.

The near tragedy happened last Thursday, when rain washed a popular eagle’s nest from its perch in tree above the tourist pullout on Robert Service Way.

The nest and its resident eaglets had become a top attraction for birders and other curious onlookers.

But last week’s heavy rains weighed down the grass-lined pad and sent half of it, and the two flight-challenged babes plunging 12 metres into thick brush on the riverbank.

“It acted as a slide for these little eaglets,” said conservation officer Tony Grabowski, who led the rescue effort. “The upstream side of the nest was broken away and they just slid right out of the nest.”

A local resident spotted the small birds on the ground and called a city official, who called Grabowski at home.

He called another conservation officer to join him in the rescue. They called Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. to borrow a bucket truck that could lift them high enough into the tree to give them a fighting chance of repairing the fractured nest.

When the conservation officers arrived, they found the eaglets sitting in a heavily wooded area beneath the tree.

“They had great big feet and long legs — they looked quite healthy,” said Grabowski. “They seemed to be rather nonchalant about the whole thing; they were on the ground and squawking every so often.”

Baby eagles cannot walk or fly, so on the ground they were destined to become coyote bait.

The conservation officers, with help from Yukon Electric’s servicemen, had no choice but to repair the nest and get the little guys safely rehoused.

Heavy wire was used to reinforce the nest, and it was further rebuilt with sticks and branches.

A crowd gathered to watch the unique rescue.

“When the birds were placed in the nest, Richard (Zebruck) said, ‘OK, they’re safe in their nest; we can go home now,’ and everybody started clapping,” said Grabowski.

After three decades on the job, he’s rescued other birds, but never eagles.

“I was so excited on Thursday night that I could hardly sleep; I was so pumped about being involved in such a positive rescue mission like that,” he said.

It was a first for the Yukon Electrical employees too.

“We have rescued many cats over the past few years, but this is the first set of eagles,” said senior serviceman Richard Kerr, who dispatched three employees to the scene.

Although it’s peculiar for eagles to nest so close to a road, it’s an ideal location for this family because of the easy access to food and open water, said Grabowski.

In fact, the rescuers found Arctic ground squirrel remains and some leftover fish skin in the nest.

The eagle’s lofty abode has created a buzz in the community, noted Grabowski.

“You can park and with just a pair of binoculars you can watch this natural phenomenon occurring before your eyes,” he said.

The nest sits roughly 12 metres off the ground in the boughs of a pine tree.

It’s about one metre in diameter and is home to two adults and the two eaglets.

The eaglets are about three weeks old and weigh almost two kilograms apiece.

By Friday morning, the adult eagles had returned home. Tuesday they were spotted renovating their nest, stick by stick.

Now conservation officers will monitor the nest to ensure the eaglets don’t go on any more misadventures until they’ve acquired their flying feathers.

The Yukon has a healthy population of golden and bald eagles. They generally nest here until early fall, and then migrate to warmer climates like Haines, Alaska, with more plentiful food supplies.

The eagles are expected to return to their reinforced nest by the river next summer said Grabowski.