Doomed bald eagle flies free thanks to volunteer firefighter

Al Raetz was heading out for his daily walk with his dogs earlier this week when he encountered an astonishing sight on Swan Creek.

Hanging from a towering sycamore tree was an adult bald eagle, wings stretched wide as it dangled above the creek.

"The eagle was hanging there with one of its wings tangled in fishing line," Raetz said. "It was in an impossible spot — you couldn't reach the bird because it was hanging 12 to 15 feet off the water."

Raetz knew exactly who to call. A short time later, Central Taney County Fire Captain Brian Chaney was on the scene, looked at the big sycamore, and began shimmying up the tree.

"I've been up that tree before, when I was a kid, fishing on the creek," said Chaney. "It didn't bother me at all. I did take some precautions — I took my cellphone and wallet out, just in case."

A road crew working nearby quickly trimmed up a small tree that Chaney used to snag the fishing line that was hooked to the tree and pull the line within reach.

"It looked like somebody had been down there sucker grabbing (casting a weighted hook to snag sucker fish) and got their hook caught in the tree and broke it off," Chaney said. "The eagle flew into that string. It was tangled pretty good in three or four of its feathers."

Pulling the eagle within reach, Chaney carefully cut the tangle of fishing line from the big bird's feathers. The eagle plunged into the stream below, but Chaney said he wasn't worried.

"I've seen eagles swim before," he said. "One will be fishing and catch a fish that's too big for it to fly off with. They just use their wings to swim it to shore."

Freed from the fishing line, the bald eagle did just that, propelling itself to the bank of Swan Creek.

Raetz said the eagle rested a bit "then took off and flew up to a real high tree, where it stayed for 45 minutes."

"It was a beautiful eagle," Raetz said. "They must have a nest around there. This time of year, everything is mating and nesting."

Raetz shared his video with Springfield TV station KY3 and the story has since gone nationwide. Raetz said he got a call from a weather channel in New York wanting a copy of his video.

Chaney said he wasn't looking to be in the spotlight.

"I can't run into anybody without hearing about it," he said. "It's neat that I got to do it, but it's not really that big a deal. I'd do the same thing if it was a meadowlark."

The Missouri Department of Conservation urges people to pick up and dispose of fishing line if they find it in the environment.

"Fishing line is designed to be tough stuff and it doesn't dissolve away," said Andrew Branson, fisheries program specialist with MDC. "We've seen fish, birds, turtles and amphibians get caught in it, and some animals could mistake it for food and eat it."

Fishing line not only can entangle and trap an animal, it also can slice into a creature's skin as the animal grows, Branson said.

Old fishing line should be collected and thrown away, or placed in recycling bins that have been placed around the state specifically for monofilament fishing line.

"The main thing is carry it out, don't leave it in the environment," Branson said.

 

Springfield News-Leader


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