On February 10, Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center (WCC) received a call from the Portland Harbor Master about a Red-breasted Merganser, a diving duck, who was tangled in fishing line in the Willamette River. Lacy Campbell, the WCC Operations Manager, packed a small net, box, and towel and drove down to the South Waterfront to rescue the bird. When they were halfway to the location, the Harbor Master called with news that a Bald Eagle, who spotted the entangled duck, had swooped down to try and make the duck a meal. In the eagle’s attempt to catch the duck, she became caught in that very same fishing line.
Lacy, equipped with materials that would have been perfect for rescuing a duck but not for a Bald Eagle, had to think creatively to now rescue both birds.“We arrived and assessed the situation,” recalled Lacy. “We figured out the easiest course of action would be for me to get into the river and remove the eagle first and then get the merganser out.”
Lacy, who has been with Audubon Society of Portland since 2011 and has been handling Bald Eagles since she was a teenager, entered the river to cut the raptor out of the fishing line.“She had one leg and one wing that were caught together in the fishing line and that fishing line was connected to the merganser,” explained Lacy. “The other leg was free. The bird was very alert and very defensive.”
By using the bird’s grip on the towel, Lacy was able to turn her upside down, grab both legs and safely remove her from the fishing line and the Willamette. Once the eagle was free, the volunteer was able to retrieve the merganser. Both were brought back to the Wildlife Care Center for assessment and treatment. Sadly, the Red-breasted Merganser had to be euthanized due to the severity of its injuries.
Despite the Bald Eagle’s brief entanglement with the fishing line, an all too common hazard for wildlife, Deb Sheaffer, Portland Audubon’s veterinarian, found that the Bald Eagle only had minimal injuries including a slight head trauma which resolved within 24 hours and superficial abrasions.
A week and a half later, after multiple exams, observation, and time to recover in Portland Audubon’s flight cage, this large female is ready to be released back into her territory.
“Twenty-five years ago a Bald Eagle would have been a rare sight in downtown Portland,” says Portland Audubon Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger. “The banning of the pesticide DDT has allowed Bald Eagles to recover. However, contamination threats still exist even in our community. Eleven miles of the Willamette River stretching from near the confluence to the Broadway Bridge are heavily contaminated and listed as a federal Superfund Site. The public will have a chance to comment on a clean-up plan beginning this April to ensure that people and wildlife like this eagle are not harmed by toxic contaminants in our river.”
On the afternoon of the release, Portland Audubon staff will meet members of the public at the Waterfront Park south of the Hawthorne Bridge. The public can enter the park on SW Jefferson Street in downtown Portland. Portland Audubon thanks Portland Parks and Recreation for providing a release site near the eagle’s home.
Founded in 1902, Portland Audubon is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the nation. It promotes the understanding, enjoyment and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats through its conservation and environmental education programs, its 150-acre Nature Sanctuary and Nature Store in northwest Portland, and its Wildlife Care Center.
For more information, call 503-292-6855 or visit www.audubonportland.org.