A bald eagle soars high in the sky in Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Richard Spinney

This story is the sixth in a series by Richard Spinney about his experiences transporting injured and sick wild birds for Avian Haven bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, Maine.

There is no knowing when or where a bird might be injured, fall out of its nest, be found malnourished or otherwise in distress. Therefore, people call Avian Haven at all times of day or night.

Sometimes people call late in the day, when it is not possible to get the bird they’ve found to Avian Haven before the crew collapses after another busy day. We all have our limitations. In that case, the best thing to do is to follow the directions on Avian Haven’s voice message recording — including “don’t attempt to feed the bird” — and wait for a call when they open the following morning.

Here it is important to note that anybody finding a bird should not attempt to treat the bird themselves. Many young birds resemble each other to the layperson. Some birds eat berries and some eat insects, while still others eat seeds. Despite the best of intentions, it is easy to further injure, or worse yet, kill a bird while trying to help it.

The people at Avian Haven know how to treat birds because of their extensive formal training and years of experience. Furthermore, there are all sorts of rules and regulations in regards to handling wild birds, such as those laid out in the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. There are many laws that can get you five to 10 years in the slammer, with substantial fines. These regulations are not here to punish people, they are here to protect the birds. The Migratory Bird Act, for example, was created in part to protect birds that were killed by the thousands just for their feathers to be used as adornments for women’s hats.

The best thing to do is to save Avian Haven’s telephone number in your cell phone. It’s 207-382-6761. Go ahead. Do it now. I’ll wait.

OK. All set? Thank you, and some bird may also thank you someday.

In the morning, Avian Haven staff members listen to messages left overnight. Then they’ll often call volunteers to transport birds to their facility in Freedom.

“Volunteer transporters play especially valuable roles by ensuring that orphaned or injured birds can get here [to Avian Haven] when their rescuers cannot bring them. As in past years, about 2/3 of our patients owed their arrival to a dedicated team of folks willing to get on the road in the event of a bird emergency, sometimes working in relay teams with two or three hand-offs,” according to the Avian Haven website.

On a January day in 2017, I left Bangor around 10 in the morning to serve as one of those volunteer transporters — as I often do — after being contacted by Diane Winn, co-founder of Avian Haven. She had listened to the voice messages that were left overnight and had asked me to pick up some birds in the area.

Upon arriving at Avian Haven, I left the birds and met Marc Payne, Avian Haven’s other co-founder.

“Are you going right back to Bangor?” he asked.

The day before, I had taken a sick bald eagle that many knew as Bangor Mom to Avian Haven. She died from lead poisoning soon after. While walking from the facility back to my car, I had met a fellow transporter carrying a big crate containing a bald eagle with lead poisoning from Calais. That bird also died sometime after its arrival. The bodies of both dead eagles were packaged and put in a freezer.

From there, the eagles were to be transported to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Bangor office. They were kept there, still frozen, and ultimately shipped to The National Eagle Repository, which is located at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Denver, Colorado.

One of the purposes of the eagle repository is to “receive, evaluate, store and distribute dead bald and golden eagles, parts and feathers to Native Americans who are enrolled members of federally recognized tribes throughout the United States.” Feathers especially are used by members of the tribes in their ceremonial headdresses, some of which are quite elaborate.

The repository also develops and provides educational programs regarding wildlife trade, wildlife laws, endangered species, raptors and the Native American eagle feather program.

So Marc, by asking me if I was going right back to Bangor, was also asking if I would take the remains of some bald eagles to the Maine DIF&W office. Among them that day was the body of Bangor Mom.

There were no escorts, no reception committee, no drama — just an hour-long solemn ride in an aging, unremarkable Honda Accord passing unnoticed through several communities. Yet somewhere, Bangor Mom may live on in a beautiful ceremonial headdress. She also lives on in a lot of people’s hearts and memories, including mine.

Richard Spinney lives in Brewer with his wife of 48 years. He retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 20 years’ service, sold real estate for 23 years while also teaching adult ed algebra for 10 years, was a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist for a few years and the treasurer of The Maine Genealogical Society for 14 years. He has volunteered for Avian Haven since the summer of 2016.

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