Brad and June Hope have observed bald eagles many times before, but for June, the eagle she saw on their ranch a few kilometers North of Princeton caused her to pause. “On Tuesday, at around 5 p.m. a Bald Eagle walked into our yard from out in the hayfield and went for shelter by our barn,” said June. “He could walk, but not fly.” Suspecting something might be wrong with the eagle, Brad and June went out for a closer look. “We tried to capture him, but the two of us were unsuccessful so we called Randy for extra support,” June continued, “and we called Madelone Schouten.” Schouten is a respected member of the Vermilion Forks Field Naturalists with a vast knowledge of birds native to the area. “She told us to catch him with a blanket,” said Regional Director Brad Hope, “and it worked really well.”
“While we were waiting, I had some beef scraps thawed and I went over and threw the scraps to him and he gobbled them up,” June stated. “When we had a salmon farm I used to call the eagles and feed them the salmon injured by herons or otters, they became very used to my “twitter” and would show up within an hour.”
June became more concerned for the eagle when it became very lethargic after it ate the scraps. Friend Randy McLean “arrived just as it was starting to get dark,” June said, “and we found the eagle under the shelter of the barn. Brad was able to get a blanket over him with Randy and I both helping and we put him in a large box until the morning.”
Hopes had arranged with Ministry of Environment to transport him to South Okangan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls in Oliver www.sorco.org “The mature eagle was examined there and found to be severely malnourished,” June said. “His wings and legs were good, he just had no strength to fly. He was starving to death. The centre said it would take about a week to see if he would recover.”
“In the meantime, a friend mentioned she had seen a Global News cast about starving eagles in B.C., so I Googled it and this is the story I got.”
“A weak chum salmon run along B.C.’s coast is having a devastating effect on the local bald eagle population.” It is believed that the failure of the fish to arrive in their usual numbers along the river-ways into B.C.s interior is the center of the problem. The salmon which are a staple of the eagle diet this time of year are just not there, leaving many starving.”
June added, “I also made a trip to our dump yesterday and saw LOTS of eagles there, I just made the connection that perhaps our eagle had come from there. I wonder if there is something we can do to help the eagles of the Similkameen Valley to ride out this period.”
At a Vancouver landfill some 1400 eagles were counted scavenging for food and near Parksville the number was 1300. The problems closer to the ocean are plentiful for the stoic raptor, but a talk with Ken Fujino at SORCO, gave a bit more insight into the eagle who was now named Hope. “The eagle came from Hope Ranch and was rescued by Hopes, it was only natural that Hope become its name.”
Fujino said the mature adult eagle was somewhere between 3 and 5 years old and without the Hopes intervention would not have lasted much longer.
“He was pretty lifeless when I first saw him,” Fujino stated. “Hope was starving to death…he was totally emaciated. When I would feed him he would gobble down his food and then put his head down like he had absolutely no energy.”
Fujino was happy to report that Hope’s future went from doubtful to hopeful after he was captured. “He’s coming along just excellent,” said a thrilled Fujino. “Hope was pretty lifeless when he came here. He was starving to death and now he is alert and has been moved from pen to pen as he has transformed. He is now on the highest perch in one of the biggest pens, alert with his head up. It is just a matter of continually feeding him, so he can fully recover before he is released. Hope will be here a minimum of a month more.”
Next for Hope is the flight pen. “We will move him into the flight pen so he can get his strength up to fly,” stated Fujino. “His body was feeding on itself and Hope had very little of his breast muscles left which are absolutely crucial to whether or not he can fly. If we released him before he had regained his breast muscles he would not survive.”
Fujino did not think that Hope was from the Lower Mainland, but rather one of the areas own eagles. “The eagles around here don’t depend on fish as their main staple. They eat mice, rats, other rodents, rabbits, fish and whatever else they can catch.”
The cause of Hope’s de___ is not known, but Fujino said there is much speculation as to why. Hope could have ingested some poison and been sick for a while and lost his strength or he could have somehow bruised his chest muscles whether it be getting struck by a motor vehicle or something else…it is hard to say. There are a lot of possibilities, especially in the winter time when hypothermia can become a factor.”
SORCO is a non-profit bird rescue centre located just outside Oliver, B.C. that has helped innumerable birds recover from illness and injury. Three weeks ago, Fujino released another bald eagle back into the wild. “It was hit by a car along the Channel Parkway at Penticton when eating a roadkill along the side of the busy road,” and there are more. A Sharpchin hawk, a Pigmy Owl, a Saw-whit Owl, a Red-tail Hawk and two Great Horned Owls have all graduated from SORCO and been released back into the wild.
While funding cuts have squeezed the rescue centre hard, Fujino said they plan to keep on rescuing raptors for as long as they can. “Our last gaming grant was taken from us the year of the Olympics. It was 40 per cent of our annual operating budget and has hurt us deep. We want to continue on with our good work and keep rehabilitating raptors. Raptors are an important part of our environment.”
SORCO will be holding their annual Open House and garage sale on April 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and encourage the people of Princeton to attend. “It is a good way for people to see what exactly we are all about,” said Fujino, “and if anyone would like to donate to the garage sale or to our facility they can phone 250-498-4251 or email email@example.com
There is a colouring contest for kids from Grade 1 through 6 to enter to win a t-shirt, a poster or a pin and pen. The Similkameen Spotlight office will have pictures for anyone wishing to enter. SORCO is located 1 kilometre south of Vaseux Lake at 39267 Hwy #97 North near Oliver, B.C.. “We hope to see you there,” welcomed Fujino.
Watch future issues of the Spotlight for the release of Hope back in Princeton. Regional Director Hope is trying to coordinate the release with some students from the school district to come see and the Upper Similkameen Indian Band. “We want to get kids thinking about the environment more and this seems like a great way to do that.”