There’s a new wrestler in town: local trains to save the eagles as volunteers leave for the summer
There is a new bald eagle wrestler in Unalaska.
That’s right: the island has volunteers who, under a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, help rescue injured eagles or rescue dead eagles.
Normally, local fishery biologist Brianna McGrath leads a group of four volunteers to do the job. But nearly all of them leave the island for the summer – a busy time to get the eagles out of the warehouses or to rescue the wounded from the Unalaska docks and the local spit.
This is where Megan Dean comes in.
McGrath enlisted Dean as Unalaska’s new raptor wrestler to help bridge the summer volunteer gap.
“I know Meg is a little bird nerd like me, so I thought she might be interested,” McGrath said.
And Dean was interested – very interested.
Dean works at the Aleutian Museum and is a self-proclaimed “bird nerd” like McGrath. She grew up in Connecticut fascinated by red-tailed hawks and other raptors. She also lived at Bethel where she worked with a falconer who had a gerfalcon and a woodpecker.
“[Growing up], we didn’t have cable so I’m one of those freaks who thought everyone was watching PBS’s NOVA series, “Dean said.” And then in Springfield, Massachusetts – right across the way from the border – WGBY has a peregrine falcon camera. It’s a show that I thought everyone was watching, which it wasn’t. I have always liked raptors. ”
Dean was “nervously excited” to be asked to become a volunteer eagle rescuer.
“They’re away from the Jurassic Park dinosaurs that caused all this heckling,” she said. “So I was like, ‘This is probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever signed up for in my life.’ But here we are. And we survived. “
McGrath said that over the past three years, his team of volunteers have rescued or recovered more than 50 eagles. But, she said, that doesn’t include an additional five to ten suckers from unharmed eagles getting caught trying to get fish from a crab warehouse or tank.
McGrath began training his new volunteer recruit, Dean, last Monday. This meant the two spent time throwing a thick blanket over stationary objects and stuffed animals near Sitka Spruce Park and watching videos of eagle rescues. Just a day later, Dean got his first call.
“There was an eagle – it looked like a female. She was very tall,” Dean says. “She was at UniSea and had a few different injuries. Brie called me and we went to pick her up.”
Dean and McGrath put on heavy jackets and thick leather gloves, walked over to the female eagle and threw a blanket at her. Dean said she grabbed the big bird and cradled it in her arms, making sure to hold onto the raptor’s strong legs.
“It’s so they can’t scratch your face or the artery in your arm,” she said. “And that helps them stay still so that you’re safe and they’re safe.”
They put the injured eagle in a very large dog crate and took it to the airport where it would fly on an Ace Cargo flight to the bird treatment and learning center in Anchorage. The center takes about 1,000 injured birds each year from across the state, according to its website. McGrath said if the eagle can be rehabilitated there, it will be.
“But if they can’t, then they’re euthanized,” she said. “I always feel like even though they’re euthanized, we’re doing a good thing, because anyway, we’re helping them. If they are taken to rehab, they are better. And if they are euthanized, we get them out of their misery. “
McGrath said the dead eagles were being sent to Colorado National eagle repository, operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
“At the eagle depot, Native Americans across the country can request their coins and feathers,” she said. “And they’ll use them for ceremonial, religious purposes. It’s just a cool, cool system.”
If you see an injured or dead eagle this summer, call the Unalaska Department of Public Safety at 581-1233 and they’ll likely call Dean to come get it.