Wednesday, April 22, 2015 Hot Tub Drama

Seward, Alaska

Last night, shortly after 9 pm, I received a call from a neighbor. While he was relaxing in the hot tub between snow squalls, two BALD EAGLES burst into the tranquil night.  An adult was in hot pursuit of a juvenile that was clutching a COMMON MURRE. The eagles collided with some spruce branches and the murre crashed to the ground.

As the startled eagles flew off to reconnoiter, my quick-thinking friend tossed a towel over the stunned murre to calm it down. Then he called me.
I arrived to find the white towel covering the prostrate bird, wings still outstretched as it had fallen. I carefully tucked the wings back in place and placed the package on newspapers in a cardboard box. There was no struggle and fortunately, no blood.

I drove the victim to the Alaska Sealife Center and alerted a security guard who called the rescue person on duty. While I waited in the car, I listened to the steady, slow, rhythmic breathing of the bird-in-a-box on the passenger seat. That was a real thrill for me.

Countless times I have watched bald eagles snatch these remarkable seabirds from the bay, obviously alive and peering about, firmly grasped in sharp talons en route to a dining perch. Then the valiant fight even while on the table, trying to escape. Finally, the almost inevitable end, as feathers fly and they are ripped to shreds, not always mercifully dead. Murre carcasses lie on the forest moss, city sidewalks, yards, and washed up on beaches. They seem to be the eagles’ favorite target.

While I do understand predators must eat, just once in a while, it is tremendously satisfying to be able to take advantage of a situation and intervene.

Halley arrived in about 15 minutes and gave the murre a quick check. Surprisingly, there were no puncture wounds, the feet were fine, the head looked fine. Judging from the partly digested small fish the bird had thrown up, it had recently eaten, a good sign.

We discussed a quick release back to the bay as another snow squall began. It was possible there was no harm done. Then we discussed the other option, an overnighter at the Alaska Sealife Center with a dish of fish. Given the bird had suffered a tremendous shock and fall, the choice was obvious, and the bird was checked in.

I called this morning, hoping for some good news. Unfortunately, the murre did not survive. Perhaps there was hidden internal damage from being clutched, or from the crash. Nonetheless, the ASLC will study this bird, try to learn more about it, and understand why they are struggling to survive while other seabirds seem to be finding adequate food.

Thus, the hot tub drama ends. Two eagles were disgruntled and one did not get supper. But one small seabird touched the lives of a few people and my heart, and just possibly contributed a little bit to science.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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