It was like he was doing the breaststroke, Gary Turner said of the bald eagle that swam across the Squamish River.
Last Saturday (Jan. 18), the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (O.W.L.) volunteer received a phone call regarding an eagle struggling to fly. The eight-pound male bird was spotted on the shoreline near Judd Road Beach. When Turner arrived at the site, blanket in hand, the five-year-old eagle was hopping around the edge of the river. When the Squamish resident approached the animal, the bird went into the water.
“He swam right across the river, through the currents and everything,” Turner said.
Turner and a friend with a canoe took off after the eagle. They were able to capture him on the other side of the river, when the bird got caught in bush. Turner wrapped the eagle up in a blanket, so that its talons couldn't do any damage.
Norm Snihar — a helicopter pilot from Delta with years of expertise in wildlife rescue — flew to Squamish to pick up the eagle and take the bird to O.W.L.'s rehabilitation centre in Delta.
The eagle is a repeat customer, O.W.L. bird care supervisor Rob Hope said. The bird stayed at the facility before for an injured humerus in its right wing, he said. It's difficult to say what caused the fracture, Hope noted.
“He could have been in a fight or flew into something,” he said.
Return birds are bad clients, Hope joked. The eagle knows what it's like to be held captive and seems to hate it just that much more, he said. The centre will keep the bird of prey until he's better, at which point he'll be sent to Squamish and released by Turner, he said.
“They are quite hardy,” Hope said of bald eagles.
Squamish hosts one of North America's largest annual congregations of wintering bald eagles. Every year between November and January, the feathered creatures return to the Squamish River watershed to feast on the spawning salmon.