Read today's eNewspaper

Quick-thinking Harford man saves bald eagle entangled in fishing line

David Meadows, of Street, was fishing for white perch before dawn Saturday in Susquehanna State Park outside Havre de Grace.

Meadows, 51, found a spot along the Susquehanna River, just upstream from where Deer Creek meets the river, and put his line in the water. Soon he heard a strange sound.

"I could hear something rustling in the trees behind me," he recalled Monday.

Meadows turned back to his fishing, but when he heard the rustling again, he turned to look and saw a "full-grown male bald eagle about 9 feet off the ground."

The eagle was hung up in the trees, its wings tangled in fishing line.

Meadows contacted the Maryland Natural Resources Police, calling the emergency line, 410-260-8888, printed on his fishing license.

He said the dispatcher told him officers only handle such calls Monday through Friday and referred him to the Phoenix Wildlife Center in Baltimore County.

"I was just a little distressed to know nobody was going to come," Meadows said.

With his smartphone, Meadows snapped a picture of the eagle in the tree. He said several blackbirds landed on nearby limbs, and the eagle tried to free himself.

While he was on the phone with the dispatcher, the eagle fell to the ground with the fishing line wrapped around its head, feet and wings, Meadows said.

He approached the eagle and threw his rain jacket over the raptor's head.

"I was a little sketchy about it, because he was really big," Meadows recalled.

He said the eagle struggled at first, but calmed down after about two minutes. Meadows took the fishing line off the bird and then removed his jacket from the eagle's head.

He said the eagle "just kind of stood there and looked at me" for a moment and then flew away.

Meadows said he called the NRP line at 5:47 a.m. Saturday, and he called Phoenix three minutes later.

He said he got a voicemail message, which directed him to another number; he left a message at that number, as well.

He got a call back later Saturday from a Phoenix staffer, who thanked him for his efforts.

The Phoenix Wildlife Center is a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation facility in Jacksonville, which has permits to take care of various forms of wildlife, including migratory birds and mammals, according to Director Kathleen Woods.

"People bring us [animals] every day, every single day," she said Tuesday.

Woods said Phoenix works with the Natural Resources Police on a regular basis.

The bird rescued by Meadows was one of three eagle-related calls in central Maryland that Maryland Natural Resources Police received Saturday morning.

Despite what Meadows said he was told on the telephone, Candy Thomson, the spokeswoman for the NRP, said officers respond to calls involving animals in distress at all times of the day, weekends and holidays.

"We don't differentiate, day or night, weekends, [it] doesn't matter to us," she said Tuesday.

Thomson said NRP officials are investigating exactly what the communications officer told Meadows Saturday morning.

She noted it has been the policy of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife and Heritage Service since October 2011 that representatives make "on site visits" regarding eagles if a nest is found, a resident finds a number of dead birds in a single area or there is an "injured raptor that can't be taken in by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator."

"Natural Resources Police takes these cases, and we send officers if it seems like we can quickly move the animal out of harm's way, or keep the animal from harming the public, in the case of, say, an injured bear," Thomson explained.

"Using this policy, we referred Mr. Meadows to a wildlife rehabilitator," she added.

Thomson said the NRP communications center handled three calls within about a two-hour period Saturday morning, including Meadows'. The others, both in Baltimore County, involved a report of an injured eagle in a field in Middle River and two eagles that were trapped in a pond that were at risk of going under the water.

She called three eagle calls so close together a "highly unusual situation."

Thomson said officers responded to the Middle River call, which was in a residential area and easily accessible for the officers, and the call regarding the pond, where the birds were in immediate danger.

Thomson noted Meadows "seemed to have the situation in hand," and he was referred to the Phoenix organization in accordance with policy.

"We certainly applaud citizens who take initiative the way he did," she said.

Copyright © 2016, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad