Printed on: September 27, 2012

'Golden' Moment

By Mike Mooney

Try to find one word that describes what happened to Angie Homer and Kristi Davis a little more than a month ago.

Unusual comes to mind. So does bizarre. How about freaky?

But one word can't begin to describe finding a young golden eagle -- emaciated and covered with lice -- sitting in an old tree snag about a foot off the ground along a horse trail near Kelly Canyon.

One word can't begin to describe what it's like to cut apart your shirt so the raptor can be wrapped up and packed out two miles or so on horseback.

One word can't begin to describe what it's like to have an eagle's beak pushed into the crook of your arm -- its talons wrapped around your finger and the reins.

"It was pretty cool, that's for sure," Homer said.

Homer of Ammon and Davis of Rigby went horseback riding on a Sunday afternoon last month. It was Homer who spotted the young golden.

"I noticed that the bird ... it was such a large bird ... was so close to the ground," she said.

They decided to take pictures. The bird didn't seem to mind.

Homer approached the eagle.

"He jumped down and spread his wings, then he sort of fell forward on his chest," she said.

Homer decided to examine the bird.

"Like a dummy, I turned him over. For him to be acting the way he was, I knew something was wrong," she said.

Davis didn't know what to think.

"She picks him up and brings him over to me," Davis said.

They decided to try to give the bird some water from a canteen. The bird drank out of the canteen cap. Davis also poured water down its throat.

It was about that time that Homer told Davis she would need to share her shirt with the bird. After cutting up the shirt, they wrapped the bird in it. They would have to pack the bird out because an Idaho Fish and Game officer couldn't get to them.

"We rode out very carefully," Davis said. "It never tried to get away or fight us."

About 20 minutes later, they met up with conservation officer Dan Kelsey.

"When we uncovered (the bird's) head, he still didn't wriggle around or fuss," Davis said.

Kelsey took the bird to Jim Porter, a retired Idaho Falls animal control officer and a lifelong falconer.

Porter treated the bird for lice, but after a few days, it wasn't getting any better. That's when Kelsey made arrangements to have the eagle transferred to the raptor center in Jackson, Wyo.

Once there, a veterinarian examined the bird and found no physical injuries. After a few days, the bird started exhibiting "food begging" behavior -- a good sign it was recovering, Kelsey said.

It was determined that the bird was about 22 weeks old and probably left its nest too soon. When Homer and Davis found it, it was starving.

"They told us that had we not found him when we did, he would have died," Davis said.

A month to the day after the women found the eagle -- Sept. 19 -- the bird was returned to the wild. It was taken to Ririe Reservoir, where an active eagle's nest is located. Kelsey said it was hoped the nest's occupants would become foster parents to the young raptor.

"It went really well," Kelsey said. "I'm sure it saw the nest."

Both Homer and Davis were invited to watch the bird's release.

"He flew off right away and he looked gorgeous doing it," Davis said.

It was an experience neither woman will soon forget.

Davis said she's started calling Homer the "Eagle Whisperer."

Homer just laughed.

"Well," she said. "I don't know about that."