The Juneau Raptor Center recently released its list of birds rescued in the trees, roads and water of Juneau in 2021: 162 birds, spread over 35 species.
From birds trapped in trees, to evasive swans, to bald eagles completing a cross-channel swim, the raptor center dealt with all sorts this year, said Kathy Benner, manager of the center.
“There’s so many weird things I could tell you,” Benner said in a phone interview. “When that pager goes off, you never know what it’s going to be.”
Of those, the greatest number of birds were bald eagles, ravens and crows, according to the raptor center.
“This year we were actually about 10 birds less than we did last year,” Benner said. “But we were up on raptors this year.”
Of the 162 birds rescued in 2021, 59 were raptors, or birds of prey, including 49 bald eagles, and a variety of other eagles, harriers, and owls including, unusually, a northern hawk-owl.
“We got a northern hawk-owl. We don’t see those a lot in the Juneau area,” Benner said. “He was pretty badly injured and he ended up passing. But it was really cool to see.”
It was also a year of remarkable rescues, Benner said. The one that stuck most with her was an eagle that got tangled in a fishing line near the Douglas Island Pink and Chum hatchery and swam all the way across the Gastineau Channel.
“He made it all the way across the channel trailing fishing line. It was a juvenile, a really small male- but feisty. He swam all the way across the channel. That was really exciting to see,” Benner said. “The sheer determination of that eagle to get where he felt safe- that was incredible.”
That eagle was able to be disentangled and set free without injury, Benner said. There were some other remarkable rescues, including the recover of a bald eagle trapped 70 feet up in a tree near Juneau International Airport with assistance from Capital City Fire/Rescue.
“That would have to be the hardest rescue of 2021,” Benner said. “(CCFR) responded. It was wonderful.”
Benner and the volunteers of the raptor center also managed to rescue a trumpeter swan that evaded them for weeks. However, it’s far from the most evasive bird that the center has ever tried to recover, Benner said.
“A raven with a broken wing but that’s getting food can just… live. Sometimes we can’t even catch those birds. Those guys will hop up trees and we can’t get them,” Benner said. “There’s ravens with a broken wing that will go months. They’re smart and he’s surviving and he’s eating.”
Window strikes continued to be the most common cause of birds requiring assistance, Benner.
“That, to me, off the top of my head, would be the No. 1 thing that happens to a lot of these birds,” Benner said. “Another thing is failure to thrive.”
According to Brenda Wright, board member of the Juneau Audubon Society, said that on the group’s annual Christmas bird count, numbers were way down due to the weather.
“We do do the Christmas bird count,” Wright said. “We’ve been doing it for 48 years.”
According to the Audubon society’s website, the bird count has been going on for more than a century, beginning in 1900.
“We saw about a fourth of what we say because of the harsh weather. Other than that, we had a pretty good migration last fall,” Wright said in a phone interview. “It’s been a pretty harsh year for the little guys, the ones that you see at your feeders.”
An unusually cold and wet spring period also pushed sightings down, Wright said.
“It was a little bit harsh for shorebirds this year,” Wright said. “The birds that come to spend with us are the kind that like to eat the small fish.”
Wright also noted the brief presence of some great horned owls passing through the area.
For the raptor center, the organization will keep looking out for the birds of Juneau, Benner said.
“We have high hopes for next season that we’ll get a full cruise ship load and we’ll be able to get Lady Baltimore atop the mountain. We’re hoping for a better year,” Benner said. “We have great volunteers. You see the bird numbers. These are all people giving up their free time.”
The raptor center is considering an open house later this year, Benner said, as they search for a pair of naturalists to staff the Lady Baltimore habitat on Mount Roberts. The Audubon Society will be holding a presentation on the winter feeding habits of birds on their Facebook page on Feb. 10, Wright said.