On a windy, bitter cold day in December of 2017, I was just getting acquainted with my first DSLR camera, so any opportunity for pictures was an exciting time to learn for me. I walked to my kitchen window (at the time we lived in Dover-Foxcroft) to check what birds were at our bird feeder station, and not 15 feet from my window sat a bald eagle desperately trying to break pieces off a large frozen chunk of beef suet.
I had an extra large suet cage feeder that I kept stocked with beef suet in the winter months for the woodpeckers and all birds that would come to it. When the feeder’s suet would be half gone, I would restock it with fresh beef suet and throw the remains of what was in the feeder on the ground for whatever ground feeders would come to it.
I was torn between watching the eagle or taking pictures — I was so thrilled to see a bald eagle so up close! The eagle seemed so intent on the beef suet that it did not notice me at the window. As it struggled to break off chucks of the frozen suet, I held my breath because the pieces it would break off were much too large to fit safely down the eagle’s throat.
I noticed that the eagle seemed clumsy and losing its balance, but I took it to be that it was hungry and challenged by the cold temperatures. It wasn’t until later that night, when I was viewing the pictures on my laptop, that I discovered that it was missing a foot.
I also discovered that it was a banded eagle. I knew that eagles — as well as other birds — do get banded, so I was thrilled to see that I could clearly read the letters and numbers and report them.
This one-footed eagle, seen in Dover-Foxcroft in December of 2017, was banded as an eaglet in 2005 by the Biodiversity Research Institute. It was born in a nest by a pond in Burlington, Maine. It is seen grappling with a piece of beef suet beneath bird feeders. Credit: Courtesy of Carol Belanger
Birds are banded to monitor the status and trends of migratory birds, which is so important for research. There are several organizations that do banding. It is important that if you do observe a bird that’s banded and you can read the numbers and letters that you report your find. [The organizations that use the bands to track birds] are so appreciative.
I was excited to find out that the eagle under our bird feeders was a 12-year-old eagle that had been banded (by the Biodiversity Research Institute) while still in the nest at Brandy Pond in Hancock County. The banding organization sent me a certificate of appreciation.
I have had a lot of different birds come to my feeders over the years, but none quite as exciting as the eagle. I have no idea what caused the injury, but if I had to make a guess, I would say it got caught in a trap set for rabbits or coyotes. But I will never know for sure.
The eagle was there on the ground for about half an hour or longer. Once our furnace exhaust kicked in, it spooked and flew to our next door neighbor’s yard, where it landed with a large piece of suet that it had carried from our yard with its remaining foot.
I choose to believe the one-footed eagle still soars the sky and has a mate that protects and heIps it survive. I have such love and respect for wildlife. They give so much to our environment. Co-existing with them all is so important to me.
Carol Belanger from Levant, Maine