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Citrus Heights Messenger

Eaglet Rescue Took a Village

May 07, 2024 02:25PM ● By Susan Maxwell Skinner

Eaglet Diecinueve (Spanish for 19) is treated in Auburn by Gold Country Wildlife Rescue, and Bird of Prey Health Group technicians. Picture courtesy of Gold Country Wildlife rescue


SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - After a perilous rescue in late April, a bald eaglet was transported by the California Fish and Wildlife Department to the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care facility. It is being fostered there by a resident bald eagle.

While hopes were initially high that the baby could be returned to his family’s nest on the American River, federal agencies deemed renesting would be too dangerous and bore no certainty of success.

 The mother eaglet circles in distress at human invasion. Picture by Susan Maxwell Skinner


“This transfer was the best solution under the circumstances,” said Bird of Prey Health Group veterinarian Dr. Vickie Joseph.  “The eaglet has a chance to go back to the wild. I’m grateful so many people worked together to ensure his safety. At Tahoe, he’ll be in the eyes of another bald eagle and won’t get imprinted on humans. He’ll do fine.”

Hatched in April, the eaglet was the 19th offspring of the eagle couple that has occupied an American River nest since 2016. It's uncertain how the 3.3-pound raptor tumbled to spend many hours snared below the eyrie. This reporter watched him being fed by a doting mother the night before. The nursery might have been damaged by a recent storm.  With three rapidly growing babies competing for space, accidental fallout is a risk.

 Stranded after a tumble, the eaglet alternates between exhaustion and frantic flapping. Picture by Susan Maxwell Skinner


On the recent early Saturday morning, nest-cam watchers noted the youngest baby – “Diecinueve” (Spanish for 19) to some eagle watchers – had disappeared from view. At the site, eagle fan Terri Madden saw him mired in branches below the nest at 50 feet above ground.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Madden. “My heart broke for him. His mother was above, watching him. I guess she didn’t know what to do, either.”

Seasoned animal rescuer Ben Nuckolls of California Wildlife Encounters soon reached the scene and sought clearance for an intervention to save a federally-protected bird on federal land. 

“I knew a rescue would be difficult,” Nuckolls said. “The pine tree angled sharply over a bluff. There were huge safety concerns for anyone who climbed it. But this was our beloved national bird. I’d watched this family for years and I felt a responsibility to help them.”

Orangevale firefighters assessed a seemingly hopeless scene. Because the tree was on a steep slope, using ladders was out. They summoned high-angle rescue colleagues. Dubbed the "Navy Seals of firefighting," this specialist team could not risk the safety of officers with an attempt.

By now, the baby had been dangling for at least 10 hours. Alternating between exhaustion and flapping, it could not survive much longer. Tree-climbing arborists were a last hope. Onlooker Terri Madden located Sierra Pacific Tree Care, a Placerville-based company. Two of its climbers agreed to tackle mission impossible. 

Kiover Larnus and Gabriel Cuevas rushed to the nest site. They were warned that the job would be unpaid and undertaken at their own risk.  Larnus had retrieved plenty of cats from trees. “Eagles, no,” he conceded.

 The nesting tree tilts over an American River canyon. With ropes, harnesses and spikes, Kiover Larnus begins his climb. Picture by Susan Maxwell Skinner


 The nesting tree tilts perilously over an American River canyon. With ropes, harnesses and spikes, Kiover Larnus begins his climb. Picture by Susan Maxwell Skinner


In boots, helmets and formidable spikes, the duo scrambled downhill to the tree base. Above, the eagle parents circled their sanctuary, shouting outrage at human invasion.

“The lean on the tree worried us,” said Larnus. “But its roots looked strong. I was also worried the mother eagle might come at me. I said a prayer and figured it would be all right.”

With partner Cuevas manning ropes, up Larnus scrambled. Hearts thumped below.

“We were all scared,” said one of the gathered volunteers. “Not just that he might fall; the higher Kiover climbed, the closer Mama circled.”

The climber quickly reached Diecinueve and grabbed the bundle of protesting feathers. “He was bigger than I thought,” Larnus recalls. “He looked at me bravely. He didn’t want to go in the cage, but I told him you’ll be okay, baby. He felt soft and fluffy, like a stuffed toy."

The nest above him contained Diecinueve’s two siblings. Before descent, the rescuer turned and called: "You only want this one, right?" For the first time in many hours, onlookers – many in tears – laughed.

Descent with precious cargo was slower. When the climbers and cage appeared over the canyon ridge, firefighters cheered. One inevitably uttered: "the eagle has landed."

The creature I'd struggled for weeks to photograph was no longer a high pinpoint of fuzz. Caged, his wings seemed huge, his talons massive. He was still flecked with baby fluff. After hours of misery, his eyes still shone. The little icon had steel in his blood. We did a quick whip-round and gave the tree-climbers as much cash as we could muster - nothing worthy of their heroism.

Ben Nuckolls and fellow rescuer Leslie Ackerman spirited Diecinueve to Gold Country Wildlife Rescue staff (Auburn) that operates in conjunction with Lincoln-based Bird of Prey Health Group. The baby was given fluids for dehydration and anti-inflammatory medication. He was otherwise undamaged.

Climber Larnus later told his wife and five children about the rescue.

“We all love eagles,” he said. “My kids were excited. We’re relieved the little guy is safe and we hope he’ll be released in the wild someday. My wife always worries about my work. But she was happy, too.”

Climbers Larnus and Cuevas will soon be honored by Sacramento County for their heroic effort.

 Heroes Kiover Larnus (left) and assistant Gabriel Cuevas are the last hope for a rescue. Picture by Susan Maxwell Skinner


For the safety of the eagles, the nest location is not included in this report.

Learn about Gold Country Wildlife Rescue at goldcountrywildliferescue.org.

 The eagle lands. After the perilous eaglet rescue, climber heroes Kiover Larnus and Gabriel Cuevas (in helmets) are greeted by firefighters, Fish and Wildlife Department officers and volunteers. Animal rescue specialist Ben Nuckolls holds the caged eaglet. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner


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