A T’exelc (Williams Lake Indian Band) councillor is calling it a good omen that he and his wife rescued an eagle, and four months later he was able to release it.
Rick Gilbert suffered a heart attack on Remembrance Day and spent four weeks away in Kelowna and Kamloops hospitals recuperating.
He was travelling home with his wife, Anna, when they spied the eagle lying in the middle of the southbound lane just south of 70 Mile House.
“We thought it was dead,” Rick told the Tribune. “The honourable thing was to salvage it, save some feathers, and not just leave it there so we stopped.”
Rick told Anna to get his blanket, which she said was his favourite, from the back of the car as she got out to pick up the eagle off the road.
“When I wrapped the blanket around it I could feel that it was solid, heavy and warm and very much alive,” Anna said.
Anna placed the eagle on the top of a box in the back seat of their SUV and as they drove north she could see out of the rear view mirror that it was moving and trying to get its head out of the blanket.
“The head came out and it was very much alive,” she said.
Rick said they were a bit worried it might get a second wind and start flying around, but it didn’t.
They called the RCMP and told them they had an eagle.
“We weren’t sure if it was even legal to stop and pick it up,” Anna said.
The police assured them it was OK and encouraged them to call the animal rescue society who directed the Gilberts to bring the eagle to Lakeland Veterinary Clinic in 100 Mile House.
“We dropped it off and they told us if it was viable they would ship it to OWL Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta the next morning,” Rick said.
Over the next few months, the Gilberts checked in on the eagle’s progress every once in a while and were asked if they wanted to be part of the release they could be.
“Three months later we learned it was all healed and had been dying of lead poisoning when we found it,” Anna said. “They figured it had eaten from a carcass that the buckshot had not been removed from or something like that.”
When it was time to release the eagle on March 27, they only had about a day’s notice,
Anna was unable to attend, but Rick contacted the T’sq’esden (Canim Lake) Indian Band because the area where the eagle was going to be released was in the Canim Lake territory.
“Chief Helen Henderson wasn’t able to attend, but former Chief Mike Archie could. He brought his drum, some sage to smudge the area and sang a song,” Rick said. “Two 100 Mile House RCMP officers also attended. That was really great.”
Rick said he is grateful for the whole experience.
“I’ve been through all this with my health and all of a sudden I was given this opportunity to save this bird and release it.”
Anna said the adventure was good for her husband’s spirits.
“It gave him strength and uplifted his mood,” she said. “Eagles are an honourable animal in Rick’s culture.”
As for the eagle, from their first encounter with it, it never fought or struggled when Anna picked it up off the road.
“If she had not got to the highway that day perhaps she would not have been saved and then released back to her home territory,” Anna said.