Mother and Son - The Stock Ramp Eagles
by Helen and Robbie Taylor
Mother and Son
The stock ramp
It all sounded like a hoax.
The Cynic of the team said, "It's probably just a couple of ravens," but the call proved to be genuine. Two Wedge-tailed Eagles had been found trapped under a stock ramp (or cattle grid) in the middle of nowhere.
Eagles under a cattle grid? We were left wondering how on earth they had managed to get in, how long they'd been there and why they couldn't find their way out. The run out to the caller's place took about an hour and it was full darkness by the time we reached the property. We picked up the caller and took off for the grid.
Yes, they were certainly Wedge-tailed Eagles. One was a large, mature bird and the other quite a lot smaller and obviously a juvenile. We called them Mother and Son.
When we looked at the grid, we understood at once how the birds had become trapped. This was one of those old-fashioned structures made up out of strips of railway line cemented into the edges of a pit at least 2' deep. The gaps between the rails were about 8" wide - ample space for these eagles to have gone in easily and unharmed.
The reason for their entrapment was still there; the remains of a wallaby joey also lay in the bottom of the pit. The birds had clearly gone down after it - Mother first, we guessed, followed by Son. "Now, Junior, watch carefully; this is what you do ..."
Getting the eagles out was not nearly as difficult as we'd imagined. By this time we were working by headlight beams and torchlight; these factors acted in our favour as the birds were very quiet in the darkness and we were able to perform an almost ideal low stress, low drama rescue in a very short time.
Our method was as follows. Rescuer No 1 put on the welding gloves and literally groped around under the grid until coming into contact with a pair of legs and grabbing hold of the feet. With the other hand (also gloved just in case) the head was secured and the beak held closed before the bird was lifted. At this stage Rescuer No 1 was standing in the pit with one leg each side of a rail to make the handling easier. Rescuer No 2 then aligned the bird so that its wings were parallel to the rails, then folded the wings against the body while Rescuer No 1 pulled the bird out upside down. The bird was then transferred to Rescuer 2 and boxed.
We took out the adult eagle first, then the juvenile. Had it still been daylight, and had both eagles been undamaged, we could probably have released them straight away. However, we discovered that the adult needed some attention because she had a dropped wing and evidence of grazing and bruising to the carpal joint. She had probably done this to herself trying to get out of the grid.
The juvenile had to be taken away too, even though there seemed to be nothing wrong with him. How could we have separated them? How could we have released him alone in the dark?
The ride back to the caller's property was a bit different - we had only brought the one "just-in-case" box, so Son had to be wrapped up in towelling and secured manually until we returned to the house and a box could be found to transport him home. They say you haven't lived until you've had a wedge-tail loose in the car, but ...
The eagles' time in care was fairly uneventful. All we needed to do was to make sure Mother's wing was just bruised and not fractured, and give her 10-14 days in which to recover. Son seemed fine, but it was a while before Mother was even willing to attempt flight. Both her wings were bruised and must have been rather sore. The birds didn't eat at all well while confined, but we knew we wouldn't have them long and tried not to worry about it.
When it was time for them to go, we decided to take them back to exactly the same location, as another eagle (thought to be the male) had been noticed there by the callers. On release, Mother and Son went their separate ways and each parked in a different tree below the cliff top. Then Mother was airborne, and went through a whole range of manouevres. Son was soon up there with her and we could hear them communicating with each other and no doubt getting their bearings as they took to the thermals.
A good release, we thought.
But it got better than that. We had been half-expecting Father to turn up and weren't surprised when he appeared. But he wasn't alone; two other eagles were with him - another adult and a juvenile. And our birds went out to meet them. Then we observed an interesting interaction between Mother and one of the other adults - a brief spiralling tumble in the air with claws intertwined - so perhaps this was Father greeting his lady (well, that is how we'd like to look at it!).
It is not often one sees five wedge tailed eagles in the same eyeful of sky. They must have known each other and were possibly related, as there was no discord at all between them. When they eventually disappeared from our sight the five birds were still together.
This is by far the most satisfying release we have ever done. It is easy to get emotional about it, but in the context of our work in rehabilitating raptors, a release like this makes all the hard work, tears and frustration worthwhile.