Onlookers were left stunned when witnessing an eagle collide with a live powerline, get electrocuted and fall to the ground in Comox.
The incident, which Don Tait captured photos of, happened at Point Holmes Beach at 2:23 p.m. Wednesday, according to the time stamp on the local photographer’s camera.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said Tait, recalling the moment the bird hit the line as it attempted to catch a fish carcass dangling from it.
“I was so sad. They are such magnificent birds,” he said. “There are so many people in Canada who don’t get to see these things, and we have them in our backyard all the time. They’re gorgeous to see.”
It was a bike ride for Tait that he won’t soon forget.
“As I was riding, a saw a bald eagle along the waterline flying parallel to me. He had a fish carcass in his talons. He started to fly up to clear the powerline, and his feet were probably down because of the carcass he was carrying,” he recalled.
“It was low enough that it caught on the power line, and the carcass ended up hanging on the line. The eagle flew off, but I caught him (trying to) get the fish off the line.”
According to Tait, the bird made “various passes,” but it was on the fourth pass when things turned fatal.
“I think what happened was he got his talon wrapped around the powerline. That spun him 90 degrees, and with his wing outstretched, he lost momentum and started to drop a little bit. Then, his wing touched the powerline. That’s what caused the electrocution,” he said.
“He fell straight down onto the boat ramp.”
He says that’s when another witness at the beach reached out to the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS), a Merville-based hospital that aids ill and injured animals.
Melissa Steinkey, a MARS wildlife rehabilitator, was working that day and actually saw the bird herself, saying a local plucked it off the road and brought it in to be disposed of.
“We had a volunteer transfer it up to us,” she said in an interview with CHEK News. “If not, Mainroads usually handles that if it’s a dead animal on the side of the road.”
For Steinkey, it’s not uncommon for birds to get electrocuted.
“We have had electrocutions pretty much anywhere that there are power lines,” she said. “We’ve had a fair amount of eagles come in over the years with electrocution just from a variety of areas all over the Island.”
Steinkey says there is a way to treat birds in these situations, but the success rate is “very low,” and it’s usually difficult to determine the internal damage.
“A bird can seem fully recovered, but a month later, it could come back with issues. It doesn’t always cause death right away, but it can cause serious injuries,” she explained.
Anyone who spots an injured or dead bird is asked to contact B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service, and Steinkey says those around the Comox Valley can also reach out to MARS.
“We want to make sure that BC Hydro is notified as well,” she said. “They actually put flashers up on the powerlines to help deter birds. It allows them to see the lines a little better and hopefully miss them.”
That’s a good reminder, considering this incident caused a power outage.
“When (I got home and) saw (the microwave) flashing, I opened up the exit data on the image and saw that it was exactly the same time,” added Tait.