The eagle has (crash) landed

A juvenile bald eagle stands on Bettina Fisher’s deck in Langley Tuesday. The bird trapped itself after it hit Fisher’s window while fleeing from an adult eagle. - Matt Johnson
A juvenile bald eagle stands on Bettina Fisher’s deck in Langley Tuesday. The bird trapped itself after it hit Fisher’s window while fleeing from an adult eagle.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

When a juvenile bald eagle hit Bettina Fisher’s picture window Tuesday, it learned a lesson known to even teenagers of the human species: Love hurts.

The fully grown but still brown-headed bird hit Fisher’s window after what appeared to be a fight with a more mature bird who controls a nesting site in the First Street area. Fisher, who was in her living room at the time of the accident, said the sound of the bird hitting the window, then struggling to get off her deck was “like an explosion.”

Just stunned in his encounter with the window, the eagle stuck around for a few hours, though not by choice. The glass enclosure around Fisher’s deck confused the bird, which could not figure out why it could not fly away. It flapped repeatedly against the glass before calming down to wait for something to happen.

That’s when things got interesting, at least for Steve Layman of Clinton. A falconer who has experience with rehabilitating raptors, Layman showed up at Fisher’s house a couple of hours after the eagle’s crash landing. After stepping past a Langley police officer and onto the deck, Layman used a little sleight of hand to distract the bird, grab its huge talons, and roll it onto its back.

Calm once in Layman’s grasp, the bird displayed only a few scratches on its talons, injuries consistent with a midair fight with another eagle. The whack against the window did no damage, Layman said.

After releasing the unhurt bird over the deck railing, Layman surmised that the territorial fight — which was probably over nesting space and, hence, potential mates — drove the eagle to look for a hiding place. Fisher’s house was almost ideal, except for the window.

Layman said these sorts of events will be more common as spring sets in. The day before rescuing the eagle from Fisher’s porch, he was called to a client’s house to examine unusual marks on another window. A window washer by trade and a bird biologist by training, Layman found delicate impressions of owl feathers on the window — the result of an owl fighting with its reflection in defense of its mating territory.

Since there is little to be done about these collisions, Layman recommends that homeowners in raptor and owl territories keep on hand the phone number for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in case a bird rescue is needed.

He also encourages people like Fisher to leave the collision residue on their windows for a while, even though it goes against his instincts as a window cleaner.

“Don’t wash it off right away,” he said. “It’s a great conversation piece.”

Layman said he expects squabbles over territory to increase as eagle populations skyrocket over the next few years.

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