BC Hydro crews rescue eagle caught in Ladner power line

The challenge was to release the bald eagle while avoiding its talons and beak

What started as a standard Monday for BC Hydro trouble technician Bruce Byrnell changed pretty quickly when his Richmond crew received a call that a live eagle was hanging on a power line in Ladner, just east of Boundary Bay Airport.

The crew were on their way to another job, but made the animal rescue a priority, quickly making their way to the aptly named Eagle View Farm. They arrived to see a young bald eagle with his leg tangled in the line.

The power line was still energized when the crews arrived, so their first task was to de-energize and ground the power line.

The crew was joined in their rescue efforts on January 19, by members of the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (O.W.L.), an organization focussed on the rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned birds. The O.W.L. reps handed Byrnell a net and some gloves, along with a brief warning: "Whatever you do, just grab his leg – don't reach for the talons or he'll latch on and not let go. Avoid the beak and talons at all cost."

'He just seemed to calm down when he realized I wasn't a threat'

Byrnell says it wasn't an easy task to get the fatigued bird off the line and into the waiting net. The eagle spent a lot of time flapping around and Byrnell had to wait until the eagle reacted calmly to his approach. "He seemed to just calm down when he realized I wasn't a danger, I wasn't a threat. I just went slowly, tried to call him, tell him it's okay, it's okay," Byrnell says of how he finally got hold of the bird.

Eagle on the road to recovery at O.W.L.

Since the rescue, O.W.L. has been caring for the eagle, and Byrnell regularly checks in on his new friend.

"I phoned down the day after we rescued him and O.W.L. said the eagle's not doing well. He's not standing on his own," says Byrnell of the initial prognosis.

The eagle was likely up on the power line for up to two hours and sustained some injuries, including a flashburn on its leg. When it first arrived at O.W.L.'s facility in Ladner, the eagle could only lay on his belly with his feet out the back.

But the following Friday, Byrnell returned for another visit and to watch a health examination and feeding by O.W.L staff. The volunteers shared the good news that this was the first day the eagle stood by himself, which is a great step towards survival and eventual release.

"Man, I just looked at him like, hang in there, buddy. It was a cool experience," says Byrnell of hearing that the male eagle – estimated to be about a year old – was making good progress.

When Byrnell last spoke to O.W.L, the eagle – given the nickname Flash by the BC Hydro crew – had moved to an outside cage and was hanging out with a mature female.

"This is supposed to help him learn to eat on his own, as he wasn't doing that all the time," says Byrnell. "He will have to be able to feed himself before he can be released back into the wild."

Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society is a non-profit organization whose volunteers are dedicated to public education and the rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned birds, particularly eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls. Birds arrive at the facility from throughout the province, Canada and the United States, and volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Want a tour? From September until June, public tours are available every Saturday and Sunday between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours of the facility are offered daily in July and August.

Read more about how BC Hydro works to protect wildlife