Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Cutter & Bay

This early July photo caught one of Monty and Marsha's 2019 offspring walking away from the nest. I suspect the young eagle was about 8 weeks old and still unable to fly. The young bird was ~100 feet up in the air and navigating the branch in a fairly odd fashion. With the young eagle's wings flapping wildly, it looked a bit precarious. 

Normally, adults land on a branch and then fly-hop to move around. I am sure a mature eagle could 'walk-the-plank' but I do not have any memories of having seen it happen. It seems obvious to me that a Bald Eagle's talons are built to grasp branches in a perpendicular direction.

During the next week, I often found the smaller of the two young out on the branch. Size is our best visual indicator of gender in eagles, so it was logical to assume that the smaller bird was male. 

Given that the parent's (Monty and Marsha's) nest is basically at the intersection of Union Bay and Montlake Cut the names Cutter and Bay for their offspring seemed obvious.

The information I have indicates that on July 11th, Cutter must have taken a misstep. He ended up on the ground, apparently without broken bones, but unable to fly. From the Montlake neighborhood he was transported to PAWS, the Protective Animal Welfare Society, in Lynnwood. 

During the next few days, I caught a couple of photos of Bay, the remaining young female Bald Eagle. I remember seeing her in five different locations in the nesting tree in just 36 hours. She was learning to move away from the nest and fly about the tree, e.g. branching.

I found this close up particularly interesting. It certainly gives me the impression of fearlessness. Also, please notice how the feathers on the front of her neck are fairly uniform in their darkness.

A few days later Jeff Brown from PAWS called and asked if I had any suggestions for where to release the young male eagle.

Critical factors to consider include the release point should be out of reach of dogs, raccoons, coyotes, etc. The site should be as close to the nest as possible so that the parents could hopefully find and feed the young bird. It would also help if the release point was surrounded by nearby trees so the young eagle could safely 'branch out' and learn to fly. Also, minimizing exposure to people and noise would help to reduce the young bird's stress level. Initially, finding a site to meet all these criteria, especially next to Montlake Cut, seemed pretty unlikely. That evening my wife and I walked over and took a look around. 

Suddenly, the old Shell-house almost seemed to leap across The Cut. The flat roof was large and safe from four-legged predators and human interruptions. It sits about halfway between Monty and Marsha's primary daytime roost and their nest. Cutter, with his nearly six-foot wingspan, would be hard for them to overlook. Plus, most of the building is surrounded by trees, ideal for branching. It was the optimal release site.

On Wednesday, with access and assistance kindly provided by Rod Smith, from the UW Waterfront Actives Center (WAC), Jeff Brown, from PAWS, prepared to release the young eagle onto the Shell-house roof. At the same time, the adult Bald Eagles (Monty and Marsha) sat nearby, at their roost immediately north of the WAC.

When released, the young eagle quickly rushed away from the cage, but not without being noticed.

Note: The front of Cutter's neck is mostly covered with frosty-looking, white-tipped feathers. With a close enough look, I am hoping this might be a way to distinguish him from his sibling.

A pair of American Crows immediately started harassing Cutter.

He was frustrated by them. He would lift his wings to scare them away.

He would twist and turn to keep an eye on them.

Occasionally, I suspect he was even vocalizing in their direction. The good news is the crows did not harass him into leaping off the roof. Plus, no other crows stopped by to help. At this point, there was still a lot of uncertainty. How soon would Cutter learn to fly? Would the parents see him, accept him back and resume feeding him? Might he still come off the building and be unable to fly?

The good news was the parents were visible and vocalizing at their nearby roost. It seemed likely that they had heard Cutter's calls. My hope that they might secure food for Cutter rose when the two took off for a spin around Union Bay.

Sadly, they returned to their roost empty-taloned. At one point I did see them fly fairly close to the Shell-house. I had to believe they were at least aware of Cutter's return. 

Around mid-morning, I left to take my daughter's dog, Ginger, for her morning walk. When I returned everything had changed.

Cutter's sibling, Bay, had flown from the south side of Montlake Cut to the parent's primary roost. Her longest flight - to my knowledge. The parents were no longer anywhere to be seen.

Bay was being harassed by both a crow and a gull. 

Her flight and fight skills appeared up to the task. Cutter evidently saw Bay flyover. Jeff suggested that Cutter may have tried to follow her.

Cutter left the roof and landed low in a small tree just to the east of the Shell-house. Sadly, he did not demonstrate any significant ability to fly.

In the meantime, the Fire Department showed up to do a practice water rescue off the dock just to the east of the Shell-house. Contrary to my first assumption the practice was unrelated to the eagle's release. Suddenly, the noise and foot traffic in the area increased.

With an eagle who still had not flown and was not in a good location to be fed by the parents, Jeff decided the most logical approach was to recapture and return it to the top the Shell-house.

At this point, the firefighters kindly offered the use of their ladder truck. The ladder was slowly extended to within a foot or so of Cutter. Jeff secured all the required gear and slowly walked across the horizontal ladder. Just as he neared Cutter, nature took over. Cutter spread his wings and flew.

Cutter got plenty of lift as he flew up and away from the people. He landed on one of the 'wings' that extends above the Shell-house door. Those of us watching got almost as much of 'lift' from his flight as he did.

From one angle the federal aluminum band on his right foot was momentarily visible. This is potentially another way to distinguish him for his larger sibling. However, the band is not designed to be read on living birds. For the most part, it is only used after a body is recovered. Without any bright colors, it will be hard to notice on an active bird.

Moments later Cutter flew again. He landed high and deep inside the crown of a tall Cottonwood tree on the north side of Montlake Cut, directly across from the nest tree.

By this point, Bay had returned to the nest tree and both of the young birds were vocally begging for food. To my ear, Cutter's voice sounded higher and more 'reedy'. I looked up just in time to see Monty fly in from Union Bay.

Sadly, he was not carrying food. He landed in the tree next to Bay and proceeded to sit for what seemed like an hour. He never responded to their calls in any way. I was wondering if this was tough love. Maybe it was an eagle's way of teaching the young to hunt.

The crows started harassing Cutter again. He spent a couple of awkward moments flopping around on the outer ends of branches. Finally, he returned to the more stable and better protected inner part of the tree.

When one of the crows started to fly south over The Cut, Bay appeared to go out and meet it. They must have called it a draw. Both returned to their respective sides of the waterway.

Finally, Cutter flew north and landed in the Sequoia just southwest of the WAC. After a few hours, I finally left him there.

On Thursday morning, one of the young was sitting on the parent's primary roost next to one of the adults. On Friday afternoon, one of the adults took food to the empty nest, Immediately, one of the young headed south from the area near the sequoia straight towards the nest. Its begging cries were non-stop all across The Cut. It seemed to keep on calling for another five minutes after it reached the nest, even though the food was laying right in front of it. Finally, the young bird quieted down and ate. 

I was on the opposite side of Montlake Cut and I could not see any of the identification clues I was hoping to use. I did think the bird's voice sounded high, more like Cutter's, and I suspect Bay is now flying well enough to be out hunting with the other adult and, hopefully, getting fed in the field. If I had to bet I would guess Cutter was the young bird who got fed on Friday. 

Caring for fallen creatures and releasing them back into the wild is a mission of unconditional mercy. Jeff and the folks at PAWS do not get cards which say, 'It has been five years since you released me. I am now happily living in West Seattle with my mate and raising an active family. Thank you so much for your timely help during my wayward youth!' 

However, someday maybe they could get feedback via the eagles. Perhaps, if local 'bird-banders', like the those at the Urban Raptor Conservancy had help with purchasing Visual Identification Bands maybe they could put brighter, easily read bands on young eagles when they are released by PAWS. Then we could all learn even more about the lives of the eagles who share our city.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

Is this flowering plant native to the Pacific Northwest? 

Scroll down for the answer.


Bunchberry is a native plant. I do not remember seeing it growing around Union Bay, but I would suspect it was here historically and would grow nicely if planted in a wet location.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net

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