Scaling an 80-foot (24m) tree isn't for the faint of heart, but after a baby bald eagle was injured in Washington D.C. recently, a pair of climbers ascended to the rescue. 


Wildlife experts from the American Eagle Foundation (AEF), who monitor eagle nests in the area, first noticed the tiny bird's condition earlier this week. The chick's leg had become lodged in a V-shaped split in the trunk of a tree, and its mother seemed unable to help the youngster.

The chick had been struggling for over an hour when the call was made to rescue it. Image: American Eagle Foundation

"The eaglet was unable to free itself after many attempts to do so over a considerable period of time," the team wrote on Facebook. Eventually, the call was made to intervene. Two professional climbers and advisors from U.S. Fish and Wildlife were sent to recover the chick, who is known as "DC4". 

The rescue has received mixed reaction, and that's not surprising. Interventions of this kind often spark heated debate online (we saw that just recently when a bear cub was rescued in Oregon), and wildlife officials often urge the public to leave baby animals – even injured ones – alone. But in this case, the team stands by its decision. Because the entanglement was caught on a nest-cam, they note, there was no uncertainty about the chick's distress. What's more, an incoming storm meant that the window for a rescue attempt was closing.

Some commenters also wondered whether the presence of the human "intruders" might scare away the adult eagles, which could leave the second chick in danger. The AEF, however, was quick to allay those fears. "There is no need to distract the parents," the team clarified. "They always leave when they see humans approach the nest, but the parents were nearby."

Happily for everyone involved, the rescue mission ended in success. After being evaluated by vets at the Maryland Zoo, DC4 was cleared for re-release and has since been safely returned to its family. 

"A physical check-up and radiograph of the leg confirmed that the eaglet is in acceptable condition with the exception of an abrasion and swelling on the leg," the team said.

Had the bird been left tugging through the night (in the face of an approaching storm), things may have turned out very differently.

A recovering DC4 awaits release. Image: American Eagle Foundation


Top header image: Everglades NPS/Flickr