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Entangled bald eagles rescued after 'death spiral' into river

When Lynne Thompson and Scott Crockett reached the eagles, the birds weren't moving. Thompson said they were entangled, floating, stunned, and tired — but alive.

HARPSWELL, Maine — Lynne Thompson and Scott Crockett recently witnessed a nature event few people will witness in a lifetime, and it's a good thing they were there.

The couple was sitting on the deck of their cottage on Harpswell's Long Island, less than 100 feet from the New Meadows River, when they saw two eagles fly overhead. Suddenly, the birds became interlocked and began plummeting toward the water. 

"We watched them flying, and then they just locked together and started spiraling. Around and around, maybe ten or twelve times in the air, and then they crashed into the water," Crockett said.

"At that point, they weren't flying. They were just dropping," Thompson added.

The eagles landed with a loud splash, but there wasn't much sound or movement in the water afterward. Thompson and Crockett grabbed their camera, hopped in their skiff, and went to check on them. 

"As we went, you could just see this blob. These two birds, they were just laying there," Thompson described.

Credit: Lynne Thompson

When Thompson and Crockett reached the birds, the birds weren't moving. Thompson said they were entangled, floating, stunned, and tired — but alive.

"One of them hissed a little bit as they were looking up," she said.

Crockett gave one of them a nudge, and it did the trick. Suddenly, the birds let go of each other. Still, they needed to get to shore.

"The two of them were swimming like they were doing breaststroke or butterfly. And that was a wild thing, to watch them swim," Thompson said.

"They had quite a distance to go to get to shore," Crockett added.

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Thompson said one of the eagles swam right to shore and flew away to a nearby tree. The other bird was slower in getting to land, but it made it.

"We felt that it was the right thing to do just to let nature take its course at that point," she explained.

"I don't know what the final outcome would have been if we didn't show up,' Crockett said. "I don't know if they would've drowned or not. Their heads were pretty close to the water, but they're probably pretty buoyant. I don't know."

Crystal Slusher of the American Eagle Foundation told National Public Radio last year that territorial fighting and courtship are the potential causes of this type of incident. If the birds weren't fighting, they could have been involved in an in-air courtship and failed to separate their interlocked talons before hitting the water. 

According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, however, eagle mating season in Maine is typically in winter or spring, so it's less likely that the two birds were mating.

Credit: Lynne Thompson

Thompson shared the experience on the "MAINE Wildlife" Facebook page and got a big response. Her post had nearly 7,000 reactions and nearly 1,000 comments as of Tuesday evening.

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One other fun twist to the story? Some wild spectators witnessed the show.

"When the two had done the spiral and crashed into the water, we watched them for a while, and then maybe five minutes later, another eagle came out that was an immature," Crockett explained. "It circled around them to check them out like, 'You guys alright? What's going on?' So, that was cool that another immature saw it happen and was concerned."

Some local seals also had to check in on the action, too, of course.

"There was one or two seals that kept popping up beside the eagles as they were making their way to shore. They kept popping up around them, not more than four or five feet away from them. I wonder what they were thinking," Crockett said with a chuckle.

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