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Willmar man provides help to sick bald eagle

A bald eagle sits in a dog kennel after being removed from the shore of Long Lake near Willmar Saturday. Deputies from the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office transported the eagle to town and employees from the Raptor Center picked up the bird Sunday. Submitted photo

WILLMAR -- In Chuck Grunwald's mind, it was something he had to do.

An avid fisherman plying the shallows of Long Lake, Grunwald didn't get close to pulling out his pole when he saw it.

A bald eagle.

"I noticed an eagle standing on the shoreline," said Grunwald, of Willmar. "I moved right toward him and he didn't move. I backed away and came back again and he didn't move again. He was like a statue. I had my dog with me and he's a hunting dog and he got a little excited."

Being well-versed in the outdoors, Grunwald said he realized the best thing to do was not to approach it and get some help.

Luckily, Long Lake has cell-phone coverage. A call to 911 and routed to the non-emergency line didn't get immediate help. Minnesota Department of Resources Conservation Officers either were not available or not returning calls, Grunwald said.

But he did get the number for the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center, renown for its veterinary care of injured birds of prey. Though they couldn't get a representative to Willmar, they gave Grunwald instructions on what to do.

Deputies from the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office arrived a little later. The plan was to net the bird with a landing net and eventually transfer it to something sturdier.

"I scooped him up with my landing net and put him in the laundry basket," Grunwald said. "Then another deputy came out with a dog kennel."

Though it wasn't without incident. The eagle's talons, which were described to be "as big as my hand" were caught in the net and gave Grunwald a souvenir cut.

The deputies took the eagle back to Willmar and it was taken to the Raptor Center Sunday.

Eagles in the area

About two decades ago, seeing an eagle would have been a rare treat.

"Fifteen to sixteen years ago, we had one pair of eagles in the county," said Bruce Gilbertson, the fisheries manager at the DNR's Spicer office and a local expert on raptors. "People were pretty excited about that. Now we have about 18-20 pairs. People are being a lot more tolerant of predators like eagles and aware of their status as our national symbol. The birds, in turn, have learned to adapt to living in closer proximity to people."

Still, an injured raptor is not something to handle alone.

"They still pose somewhat of a threat. They have no idea what a person's intentions are. When they are approached, they are going to be defensive," Gilbertson said. "If people see an injured eagle like that, contact the DNR Wildlife or Enforcement officers or another enforcement agency. They can usually dispatch somebody that has experience in handling animals."


The Raptor Center has a information number that people can call to check on the status of injured raptors.

Grunwald said a staff member actually called him on the eagle's condition.

"They told me that the bird was actually starving," he said. "It was an adult male and it didn't have a broken wing. I told the Raptor Center about the Newcastle disease and they were pretty worried about that. They also said that there had been a report about an eagle that wouldn't fly a few days ago, but the person who reported it wasn't answering any return calls."

The eagle's heart rate, Grunwald said, was at about 80 beats per minute, which he was told was half the rate it should be. Veterinary doctors have been feeding the bird intravenously and there is hope the eagle will be able to eat solid foods or at least a slurry to get proteins in.

The whole ordeal has left Grunwald with a better appreciation for nature.

"Without a doubt. And a really good appreciation for the Raptor Center," he said. "They were going through this step by step with me and they were out here the next day."

Grunwald also wanted to thank the Sheriff's Office for their response to the situation and the help they gave.

As for why he would spend three hours making phone calls and dealing with an injured animal that many people would easily walk away from, Grunwald explained it patriotically.

"I felt it was my civic duty to do something about the bird. It's a pretty important bird."

UPDATE: Grunwald reported Friday that the eagle was getting better, with a heart rate up to 120 beats per minute and that the staff at the Raptor Center had started feeding it solid food. This information was not available by press time for the newspaper edition.