An out-of-the-ordinary decision to go for a drive to the south end of Hilton Head Island ended in an hours-long bald eagle rescue mission for a Hilton Head Island woman.
Erin Greene Bodkin’s 2-year-old son had just fallen asleep in the back seat on her way home from the gym Saturday night so she decided to keep driving to let him sleep a while longer. As she drove off the Cross Island Parkway, she saw a bald eagle in the median of Palmetto Bay Road. She made a U-turn and pulled over to start calling for help.
“I was amazed,” Greene Bodkin said. “I couldn’t believe that no one else was hitting their brakes to take a look.”
Her first attempt to find help was in the form of a post and a photo on the Bluffton/Hilton Head Ask and Answer page on Facebook, where community members offered advice, phone numbers, resources and encouragement. After numerous calls to local veterinarians, first responders and a help line, she reached Dr. Marikay Campbell of the Port Royal Veterinary Hospital who helped connect her to rescuers.
Despite those efforts, the bird didn’t make it. The eagle was too badly injured to recover and was humanely euthanized, Jim Gasen, a volunteer rescuer and transporter for the Avian Conservation Center said Monday morning.
“We always hope for a happy ending in these cases,” Gasen said. “This was not a happy ending, but at least it was a humane ending.”
The bird was transported into the care of Terry and Nancy Owen on St. Helena Island on Saturday night where its health was evaluated, Gasen said. The Gasens, who live in Sea Pines, took the eagle to Jeff Morford, a rescue and transport volunteer on the north end of the island, and he relayed the bird to the Owens.
The Owens operate a federally-licensed facility to care for and examine rescued birds and sometimes transport them to the Avian Conservation Center based in Awendaw, S.C. for rehabilitation.
The best case scenario, Jim Gasen said, is when a bird is disoriented but not hurt and can be helped home.
The next best is if it can be taken in, treated and released back into the wild.
Giving a badly injured bird a peaceful death is still preferred to it being helpless and hurt in the wild, he said.
The happier outcomes still come around “often enough that it gives you the encouragement to keep going.”
Gasen gets more calls for bird rescues in the spring, when the “young and crazy” birds are testing out their wings and pushing their limits. He has been volunteering for 5-to-10 years after going through training at the Avian Conservation Center.
It’s critical to have a trained rescuer handle such situations. That keeps the would-be rescuer and the animal from getting hurt., Gasen said
Greene Bodkin made the right decision to immediately call for help and Michael “Mick” Mayers of Hilton Head Island did the right thing by standing guard until help could come, Gasen explained.
Mayers and his daughter were heading down Palmetto Bay Road around 7 p.m. Saturday when they passed by the eagle. Mayers is a retired fire official with Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue, but now he works with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
His daughter spotted the animal when they passed. He did not see it.
“She was pretty adamant about it, though, so I made the U-turn,” Mayers said. They came back to find Greene Bodkin and the injured bird in the median.
At one point, the bird was frightened by some falling branches and started hopping away into the street, Mayers said. That’s when he said to himself, “Well, I gotta do something here.”
He took a spare jacket and took hold of the bird by its legs — “and he grabbed onto me” — to bring it back to the median and to safety. Soon after, the Gasens arrived to take it to a rehabilitation center.
The bird’s grip left some bruises on Mayers’ arm — and certainly a story to tell.
If you see an injured bird
If you see an injured bird, call the Center for Birds of Prey at 843-971-7474 and press option No. 1 for the Injured Bird Line. This line is answered from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week. For more information, visit www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.org.