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Carpenter team rescues bald eagle from backyard

Jen Vieth, the development director at Carpenter Nature Center, rescued this bald eagle near Hastings on Wednesday afternoon during a snowstorm.

Living along the shores of the St. Croix River north of Hastings provides homeowners a chance to get up close and personal with all kinds of wildlife. But what one homeowner there saw last week was anything but a welcome sight.

In her backyard was an adult bald eagle, covered in snow and ice. It couldn't fly and needed help.

The homeowner picked up her phone and called down the road to the Carpenter Nature Center in Hastings. She spoke to Jim Nielsen, a board member at the nature center, and told him about the eagle. Nielsen and Jen Vieth, who works at CNC, were then on the phone with the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. Most days, the Raptor Center sends out a group of volunteers to rescue birds like this one. Last Wednesday, though, the Twin Cities received some six inches of snow and the roads were terrible.

The Raptor Center called Nielsen and Vieth back. They weren't able to send someone out.

That's when Vieth and Nielsen got to work. The two teamed up with CNC volunteer Pam Cook and drove to the home with welding gloves, a blanket and an animal carrier.

They left before long with one scared, but safe, bird in the carrier. By late Wednesday, the eagle was at the Raptor Center, where it was being held for observation.

Vieth relished the opportunity to save the majestic bird.

"There were so many different reasons why it was something we felt we had to try," she said. "The lady whose house it was at is a dear lady. She's been a Friend of the CNC forever. Part of it was helping her out. Watching this poor eagle suffering in your yard and not being able to help must be frustrating.

"Sometimes you just need to make a difference and see the positive impact of your efforts. With all the bad news in the world and how busy we all are ... and with all the blowing snow paralyzing the cities, it just seemed like a good time to set aside the things we had to do to make an immediate difference for one majestic creature. It was just our turn to step up and help."

It appears as though the bird was injured in a territorial fight with another bald eagle, but details are still sketchy.

For Nielsen, the experience was an eye-opening one.

"It emphasized why Carpenter is such a good thing to have close by," he said. "I was impressed, seeing Jen out there in her business suit. She was diving through the snowbank, trying to capture the eagle as it was running toward the river.

"This all happened in the middle of that heavy snow, and Jen, coming from a meeting, was wearing dress shoes, slacks and coat. Yet she dove into the snow without hesitation and chased it for several hundred feet through the woods into a neighboring yard before being able to cover it with a blanket, grab its talons and control the bird."

"A lot of people would be daunted by big, long talons and sharp beaks. She had the know-how and was able to rescue the bird safely. It was particularly heartwarming for me to see. I live along the river and these guys are sitting in my trees."

The rescue

Vieth, Nielsen and Cook didn't want the eagle to have to spend Wednesday night in the poor conditions and the cold, so around lunchtime they loaded up and took advantage of a break in the weather to travel to the woman's home.

"We wanted to get it inside," Vieth said. "We figured it would be a better situation for the bird to be inside."

When they got the home, Vieth found the bird near a fallen tree. She, Nielsen and Cook surrounded it and converged. The bird ran under the tree and raced down a hill toward a neighbor's home. Vieth chased after the bird and cornered it near the neighbor's patio door.

She threw a blanket over it, which calmed the bird, then grabbed its feet to prevent the talons from doing any damage to her. The bird was secured and placed into the pet carrier.

They drove the eagle back to the nature center and later that day, a representative from the Raptor Center was able to drive to Hastings to pick up the bird.

"It was fun," Vieth said. "It was fun to share it with Jim and Pam. They'd never done a rescue like that before."

Vieth used to work at the Raptor Center and at the World Bird Sanctuary, so she had received training in rescues. "It's definitely something you wouldn't do without training," she said.

Ninety-nine percent of the time a bald eagle is in trouble like that, the Raptor Center responds, she said. This time, though, the weather forced them to ask Carpenter to help out.

"The Raptor Center does have some extremely skilled volunteers who go out and do that on a regular basis," Vieth said.