Bird biologist releases recovered eagle at refuge headquarters

A juvenile eagle, like the one released at the refuge. (Photo by Lisa Hupp / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kodiak is full of eagles, especially in January and February, and one rejoined the local population yesterday after a brief stay at the Eagle Inn, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service keeps recuperating birds.

KMXT visited the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters at the Buskin River to see the release.

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Bird biologist Robin Corcoran carries a large crate out into the sunlight.

Bird biologist Robin Corcoran at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters at Buskin River. (Photo by Kayla Desroches / KMXT)

“He was a bit of a fighter, which the younger birds are… You can see the scales… those

white spots …”

They’re fish scales.

Corcoran says she picked the bird up at Trident Seafoods, where many eagles hang around hoping for scraps.

He’d gotten pinned under the cannery’s tanks.

“It was pretty soiled with fish guts and basically coated in fish scales, so it had lost its ability to be waterproof.”

She explains he was cold and wet, which can lead to its own set of problems for eagles.

“They preen a lot. They have a preen gland, and they put oil on their feathers to keep it waterproof, and if they lose that ability – if for some reason they’re coated in oil or fish guts or any substance that’s gonna matt down their feathers and cause them to lose that waterproofing, then they stand the chance of getting really wet and going hypothermic pretty quickly.”

The bird stayed at the Eagle Inn overnight to warm up and dry down.

Corcoran walks with the crate to a hill just behind the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. There, she opens the door and the eagle flies away into a nearby tree.

Corcoran says she does releases like this one a couple times a year, and they also fly some eagles to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage.

Corcoran has a lot of practice fetching birds that sustain injures or just need to be isolated. She says she usually comes at them with a towel or blanket.

“You can put it over their head and then just grab their legs, and they’re not that hard. There’s a real fight or flight response, so they’ll try to get away from you first, and then once they realize they can’t, they roll over on their back and they just put their talons up, and they face you with what they’re gonna fight you with. It’s always a little nerve-wracking. My adrenaline’s always a little bit high because each eagle capture’s a little bit different.”

Eagles love fish, and Corcoran says they run into a lot of trouble scavenging.

“So, we’ll get up to five or six eagle calls a week … Most of it has to do with the canneries and the fishing boats, but there’s still issues with electrocutions. Birds get hit by cars quite a lot downtown.”

That’s one consequence of the public interacting with the eagles. Corcoran says feeding them can lead to them into traffic.

She says there’s also the risk of forcing a bird to dive into the water in an attempt to escape, which could lead to its death if it’s already wet or dirty.

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