It was something the residents of one Minnesotan city didn’t see every day – a bald eagle, a patriotic symbol for the country, in the trees above their heads. But it wasn’t the presence of the bird that made the sight unusual, but that the eagle was upside down in the boughs, distressed and struggling. Something had to be done.
Found across North America, the bald eagle has strong symbolism in Native American culture and has become the official national bird of the United States. It was classified as a protected species in 1940, but is now rated “Least Concern” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. Fortunately, for the last 40 years the number of bald eagles living throughout the continent has been growing.
And outside of Alaska, Minnesota and Wisconsin are the states with the largest number of eagles living there – so it wasn’t just seeing the bird that surprised residents near Rush City that day. Instead, it was the fact that the bird was hanging upside down from a tree branch and clearly in distress that shocked everyone.
Jason Galvin was on his way to Rush City on June 30, 2016 when he noticed the eagle; a closer inspection with his binoculars showed that its leg had somehow got caught up in a rope wrapped around a branch. Jason initially thought, in fact, that the bird must be dead – but then he saw it move.
“Best story of a lifetime,” Jason’s wife Jackie would later write on Facebook. “Jason went to the store yesterday from the cabin, and when he came back he told me there was an eagle at the end of our road hanging upside down by its foot from a tree branch with rope caught around it.”
“I called the sheriff’s office, city hall, fire department, [University of Minnesota] Raptor Center, [Department of Natural Resources] Conservation Officer and all the stories were the same,” Jackie added. “They said it had been there for two and a half days and that there was nothing they could do.” Apparently, the couple’s neighbors had noticed the eagle too.
All the departments gave the same reasons for their lack of action: it either wasn’t their jurisdiction, or that the risk associated with saving the eagle from such a height was too great. Some of them even told Jackie that the bird was already dead and that the movement Jason had seen had been caused by the wind.
The couple had exhausted their emergency contacts and so had come to a dead end. At that point, Jason cracked a joke about shooting the eagle down. His wife, though, thought it was a great idea. “Yep, that’s what you’re gonna do,” she said while relating the tale to Minneapolis NBC affiliate KARE 11.
And the idea wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounded: Jason was a U.S. army veteran who had served two tours in Afghanistan, so knew his way around a firearm. “He was nervous as he didn’t want to get in trouble for shooting at an eagle, but I know with his sharp shooter skills that if anyone would save this eagle it was him,” Jackie’s social media post read.
So Jason consulted conservation officer Phil Mohs, who works for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “[Jason] told me he was a veteran in the service and he wouldn’t do it if he couldn’t do it safely,” Mohs told KARE 11. If it was left alone the bird would die anyway, so he gave Jason’s plan the green light.
Although Jason had a rifle of his own, his neighbor provided one with a better scope; as a proud patriot, he was taking no chances rescuing a bald eagle. The vet took up the .22 rifle to shoot the eagle free – to do so successfully, he needed to hit exactly where the rope wrapped around the branch.
“It was windy, and he only had about four inches of rope to shoot without hitting the eagle. As he assessed the elements of the weather, he took a couple of practice shots to ensure the sight was on target. It was. He began shooting at the rope,” Jackie explained in her Facebook post.
Against the rising midday sun, the wind and the odds, then, Galvin began shooting at the branch and rope that had trapped the bird. “It was very windy and I was just waiting for the right shot,” the marksman told KARE 11. And after 90 minutes of precision firing, the branch finally snapped.
“I sat there with the [binoculars] and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s an excellent shot,’” Officer Mohs remarked in his KARE 11 interview. The display of accuracy from marksman Galvin was nothing short of amazing: the long battle took 150 pinpointed shots in high wind, but he finally delivered the bird its freedom from an upside-down hanging.
The helpless bird, which must have been suffering the effects of its two-day ordeal caught in the trees, plummeted an estimated 75 feet to the ground. When rescuers ran to the eagle’s landing site, though, they found that its fall had fortunately been cushioned by other branches and soft underbrush.
“Jason never once hit the bird. I can’t even tell you how amazing this experience was, and I knew, of all people, my husband wouldn’t let me down,” Jackie wrote on Facebook. Traumatized but alive, the young eagle was prepped for transport to a medical facility.
The eagle was wrapped in a blanket, and the Galvins used their dog kennel as a temporary cage so the bird could be moved safely. Officer Mohs took custody of the magnificent creature, which showed surprisingly healthy reactions considering what it had been through.
“It rode in the front seat with me and the whole time – his head was up and he was alert. It looked good considering it had been hanging there for two days,” Mohs remarked to KARE 11. The bird of prey was then taken to the University of Minnesota Raptor Center for a medical check-up and recovery time.
What’s more, the following day a veterinarian at the Raptor Center said that the bald eagle was doing well; it was eating and drinking properly and they were assessing its chances at long-term recovery. They were optimistic, and the Galvins were also hopeful that the bird would be eventually released close to where it had been found.
And since the eagle was rescued so close to Independence Day, rescuers appropriately named it “Freedom.” “The 4th of July… y’know, that’s our bird. I can’t let it sit there,” Jason told KARE 11. “There were a lot of tears. When it finally came down, it was breathtaking. It was a beautiful moment.”