New Brunswick

Bald eagle has rare closeup encounter in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation

Danny Ward is still in awe of the bald eagle that hopped through some brush in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, then rested and spread its wings just a few metres away from him.

'This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,' says Mi'kmaw elder

A bald eagle is collected by the Department of Natural Resources after a close encounter in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation on Sunday. (Submitted by Danny Ward)

Danny Ward is still in awe of the bald eagle that hopped through some brush in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, then rested and spread its wings just a few metres away from him.

"I was amazed. I have no words," Ward said of the encounter Sunday in the northeastern New Brunswick community.

Ward's cousin Billy Francis had called to say the bird of prey was in his backyard and not moving. Ward trekked through the snow until he was about six metres from the bird.

The Mi'kmaw elder said he then started a smudging ceremony, prayed, made an offering of tobacco and sang an eagle honour song. As he was singing, another eagle passed by overhead.

When the song ended, Ward said, the bird hopped off a stump and, in a moment captured on video, calmly approached him and a group of family and neighbourhood kids that had gathered. 

"I spoke to him in Mi'kmaq and then he started making his way over until he was almost six feet away from me," he said.

Avian flu risk

When the eagle stayed on the ground, however, Francis called the Department of Natural Resources to the scene. 

A conservation officer approached and threw a net over the bird to take it away to be checked. 

Nick Brown, a spokesperson for the department, confirmed an eagle had been collected in the area and was sent for testing for the avian flu on Prince Edward Island. He said it could take several weeks to process.

WATCH / Bald eagle makes rare, 'once-in-a-lifetime' approach 

Closeup eagle encounter in New Brunswick amazes onlookers

5 months ago
Duration 1:59
A bald eagle in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation calmly hopped through brush and stopped just a few feet away from a group of people.

The avian flu has been confirmed in New Brunswick and is a possibility in the bald eagle's case, as the disease spreads easily to birds of prey. Birds are tested for the illness at the Atlantic regional office of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, which works out of the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I.

Pam Novak of the Atlantic Wildlife Institute said birds of prey become symptomatic quickly and can catch the disease from a bird carrying it. She said it's rare for an eagle to approach humans, and speculated on what happened in Esgenoôpetitj.

"It could be a variety of things where, if it is ill, or if it's spooked somehow, or if it's near its nesting site and trying to defend its territory," she said.

Danny Ward said he was a few feet from the bald eagle captured in this photo in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation. (Submitted by Danny Ward)

The wildlife rehabilitation centre in Cookville, about 65 kilometres southeast of Moncton, has stopped taking in new birds now that the avian flu has been confirmed. Calls about injured birds are being referred to a designated avian flu phone line. 

'Once in a lifetime'

Despite a potentially fatal outcome for the eagle, the dozen or so people in Esgenoôpetitj who spotted it are grateful for the experience.

Ward said the eagle is a "powerful" bird in Mi'kmaw culture and flies the highest, taking the prayers of people through the sky to the creator. The bird's feathers are used for ceremonial purposes.

"To me this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, to see an eagle alive like that and in the wild," he said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said birds are tested for avian flu by the Canadian Wildlife Service. In fact, they're tested at the Atlantic regional office of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, based in P.E.I.
    Mar 23, 2022 5:22 PM AT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman

Video journalist

Alexandre Silberman is a video journalist with CBC News based in Moncton. He has previously worked at CBC Fredericton, Power & Politics, and Marketplace. You can reach him by email at: alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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