A Common Goldeneye, ready for release. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

A Common Goldeneye, ready for release. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Oiled eagles and a bird in a bucket

By Margo Hearne

It’s a no-moon month. It’s a rare event as the moon has a 28-day cycle and most months, as we know, are longer than that. February, “which makes us shiver, with each column we deliver,” is the exception. And it is chilly out there. The birds are affected. We have had quite a few casualties this past while.

The eagle mentioned last week is now doing much better at OWL, the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta, where Leila has an arrangement. The female bird was covered in an oily substance (of unknown origin as yet) and after a few baths she is doing much better. It will take her a while to regain her necessary oils and fatten up as, despite the friendly help from the folks in Port Clements who helped in the rescue, she was emaciated and almost at an end. It was heartening to see that after she’d been close to a heat source for a while, she lifted her head and began to preen just a bit, especially around the eyes.

In hindsight, it’s probably better that she was too weak to do much else. Ingesting the oil she was coated in would not have been a good thing.

Other birds have also arrived at the door recently. Just last week, when we responded to a knock, we were shown a bird in a bucket, the only container its rescuer had on hand. The bird looked up at us with its large, gold-rimmed eyes, and what can you do? Take it in and warm it up. The bird, a Common Goldeneye, had probably mistaken the wet, dark highway for a river and landed on it. It couldn’t take off again, so there it was, another overnighter by the warm stove.

When we were first given injured or storm-battered birds to care for, Nancy at the Wildlife Rehab told us the best thing to do was leave them alone and keep them warm. “If they start getting restless and agitated in the middle of the night,” she said, “It’s probably because they’re cold.” It makes sense. Take a wild creature out of its natural element and it doesn’t do very well. All we can do is keep them reasonably comfortable in a box near, but not too near, a heat source.

We don’t have the facilities to hold wildlife but there are those who do, especially the wonderful Wildlife Rehab Centre in Prince Rupert with whom we have worked closely for years. They have a high survival rate and are very committed. More recently, Pacific Coastal airlines will fly birds from here to OWL in Burnaby. If the birds recover they are always returned for release to their home territory.

And on this home territory just this week three Hairy Woodpeckers clung to the topmost spruce branches before flying off and chasing each other around. The elusive wintering Greater Yellowlegs — that tall shorebird with the loud call and yellow legs — finally showed up on the flats. We missed it on the Christmas Bird Count for the first time in years. There’s action out there, we just have to ride out winter a little longer.

On the Wing