Bird with a Mohawk
A bald eagle rescued from Bird Creek had a final expression for her rescuers before the big raptor flapped its wings and climbed into the sky over Mohawk Park on Monday morning.
“She hissed at me, ” Corey Killion said. “She didn’t do anything like that when we rescued her.”
Killion and fellow Logos Construction employee James Lee saved the eagle from certain death a week earlier as it floundered in the rain-swollen creek, and both were present Monday to witness its release with Tulsa Zoo officials and local media present.
The men saw the eagle floating in Bird Creek near 46th Street North, where they were working on a bridge rehabilitation project, and ended up taking it just down the road to the zoo for first aid.
“It’s a majestic bird, our national symbol — there was never any question we were going to save her from the creek, it was just ‘how do we get to her, ’ ” Lee recalled.
Lee fought the current and climbed across driftwood and brush to reach the bird as Killion waited on shore, he said.
“It was, ‘If I go under, then you jump in to get me, ’ ” Lee said.
Lee was able to throw a shirt around the eagle to pull her off a floating limb and bring her back to shore. Killion scaled the 25-foot embankment and carried the soaked and exhausted bird to their truck.
“It was all I could do to get up that bank, ” Killion said.
“No way I could have climbed up that. I was done. I was soaked, ” Lee said.
The eagle was docile, easy to handle.
“Whenever we got her out of the water, she just closed her eyes and laid her head on us, ” Killion said.
“She was really weak, ” Lee said. “She was about to drown.”
“It’s pretty amazing she recovered so quick, you know, ” Killion said. “They told us when we brought her in there wasn’t much hope.”
Veterinarian Dr. Kay Backues, director of animal health for Tulsa Zoo, said the bird certainly would have died if the construction workers had not jumped into the creek to rescue it.
“She was classified as moribund, which is our fancy term for close to death, ” Backues said. “She was exhausted, mentally depressed, dehydrated. She would have been dead by the end of the day. They were lucky to find her, and she was lucky they were willing to do something to get her to veterinary help.”
Backues said a wad of rotten carrion in the bird’s craw seemed to be what made the bird sick in the first place, and getting caught in the water could have been the final straw.
“It works in concert; you get sick and then you get cold or something happens, ” she said.
Eagles routinely eat carrion, so it is rare to see a bird get sick from bad meat, but it happens, Backues said.
“That’s our presumptive diagnosis; we’re never going to know for sure, ” she said. “She responded to therapy like that was the problem, and she got rapidly better.”
With the rotten meat removed from her craw, the bird was warmed and given fluids and improved quickly, Backues said. X-rays were taken, blood was drawn to test for lead poisoning or other illnesses, and over the ensuing days the bird steadily gained strength.
Backues and Tulsa Zoo staff brought the bird on Monday to the polo fields at Mohawk Park in a dog kennel. The bird wore a leather falconry hood and jesses on its feet.
Backus coached Killion on how to make the release as they handed the 9-pound national symbol to him. He grasped the bird’s feet and held its wings and back against his chest while Tulsa Zoo veterinary intern Dr. Ryan McCann removed the hood and held the back of the bird’s head.