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Two eagles, locked in mid-air, plummet on to Duluth airport runway

Two adult bald eagles locked talons in mid-air Sunday over Duluth International Airport and crashed to the ground when they couldn't separate. (Courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

DULUTH -- Two adult bald eagles made an unplanned landing on the tarmac at the Duluth International Airport on Sunday.

The two birds had locked talons in mid-air and couldn’t get separated before they crashed to the concrete, said Randy Hanzal, a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Both birds survived the fall but remained entangled.

“Their talons were embedded in each other very deeply,” Hanzal said.

An employee of Monaco Air, an aircraft servicing center at the airport, had seen the birds fall and called the DNR after they hit the ground. Hanzal collected the birds, both adults, and tried to transport them to Wildwoods, a wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth.

That didn’t go so well.

Hanzal said the guys at the airport told him to put them in the front of his truck.

“My better judgment told me not to do that,” he said.

Good thing. Hanzal didn’t have a portable cage large enough to contain the eagles, he said. He put them in the back of the pickup and covered them with blankets and jackets. He strapped them down with webbing straps and traveled slowly to Wildwoods, about two miles away.

“Halfway to the rehabber, there was a ruckus in the back of the truck,” Hanzal said. “I looked around and saw feathers flying up. One of the eagles jumped out the back, onto my tailgate.”

That eagle flew away, he said. Hanzal covered and strapped down the other eagle again and made it to Wildwoods. Early Monday, that bird was transported to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, said Peggy Farr at Wildwoods.

“It had some superficial injuries where they had locked talons,” Farr said, “but it also looked to me like it had a talon wound deeper into its abdomen.”

She treated the bird with antibiotics, fluids and pain medication, she said.

Julie Ponder of the Raptor Center said the prognosis of the eagle is good despite the fact that it had some deep puncture wounds in its leg and one deep abdominal puncture.

Mid-air battles between eagles aren’t uncommon, said Frank Nicoletti, director of banding at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth.

An eagle, usually a sub-adult, will wander into the territory of a pair of breeding eagles, he said.

“There are days on Wisconsin Point where I see it regularly,” Nicoletti said. “I often see them locking and heading down toward land or water. They generally break off. It’s pretty rare for them to hit the ground.”

Article written by Sam Cook of the Forum News Service

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