A Canadian saving a bald eagle from drowning on the 4th of July? Sounds fake, but okay. But it did happen, and it was all caught on video.
Brett Bacon of Calgary, Alta., was boating with his family in Windermere, B.C. when they came upon the eagle in the water. Brett manages to get the bird on board while his partner drives the boat and films the encounter. “Saved a baby eagle from drowning in the middle of the lake,” he says in the caption. “Had to prove to my son I’m cool.”
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“Eagles are traditionally piscivorous (fish-eating) birds and often will make a failed or successful hunting attempt on water surfaces and end up in the drink,” says Myles Lamont, the principal wildlife biologist with TerraFauna Wildlife Consulting in Surrey, B.C. Eagles are fairly good swimmers thanks to hollow bones and buoyant feathers, and they can usually paddle their way back to shore if they end up in the water.
Though it would take some time, without intervening like Brett did, the bird might have drowned from physical exhaustion, or it could have become hypothermic. “They do not have a water repellant down layer like waterfowl,” says Lamont, who also works closely with the Hancock Wildlife Foundation.
While it’s hard to tell how far from shore the bird was and whether or not it would have been able to swim to safety, Lamont says Brett does a pretty good job supporting the bird in a way that wouldn’t injure it. The one thing that would have been better is if Brett controlled the eagle’s feet and legs (those talons can do some serious damage if they latch on to you). “Controlling the legs, then the wings and placing a jacket or towel over the head of the bird to keep it calm is the best way to handle an eagle,” says Lamont. But with that he also urges caution: “This is not something anyone should attempt unless under an extreme circumstances, and capture should be left for experienced handlers.”
If someone were to encounter a bird in a similar situation, in an open water environment not far from shore, it’s best to leave the bird to swim back to shore on its own, says Lamont. “Alternatively, one could try to pull the bird out of the water by grasping the base of both wings and keeping the feet away from the handler or anyone nearby,” he says. Place the bird in the bottom of the hull, covered it with a large blanket or other material, and take it back to shore where you can release it to dry off and regain flight.