Bald eagles are common in Northwest Wisconsin. The American symbol can often be seen soaring overhead through the sky or perched on a tree limb. However, seeing an eagle sitting on the side of the road – on the side of a four-lane highway no less – and refusing to move, is a bit unusual.
According to the Eau Claire County Sheriff, Ron Cramer, authorities were called last week to the southbound lanes of Highway 53 near River Prairie Drive. Highway 53 is a four lane highway that runs from Eau Claire north to Duluth, Minnesota.
Eau Claire County Sheriff Cramer said that when his crews arrived, they could not determine whether or not the eagle was injured.
“Our officer arrived and saw that the eagle was standing over a raccoon carcass and couldn’t determine whether the bird could fly or not.”
The sheriff deputies were about to redirect traffic to that they could tend to the eagle when the first car crash occurred.
Rubbernecking is a term that means to turn and look, or gawk at something in a foolish manner. Rubberneckers that are driving often do so at the scene of vicious car accidents, when some strange weather phenomenon is occurring, or, as in this instance, when an unusual animal is sighted, or an animal that’s not so unusual is doing something out of the ordinary. What happens when drivers rubberneck? You guessed it.
A driver in the southbound lane of Highway 53 was so intent on getting a look at the motionless eagle and the attending sheriff’s deputies that the driver wasn’t paying attention and slammed in the rear of another car.
Not long after, another rubbernecker, who was in the northbound lane of highway 53, was either so intent on gawking at the eagle, the sheriff’s deputies, or the other accident, that they, too slammed into the car in front of them.
Sheriff Cramer talked about the incident.
“The first crash happened as a result of people gawking. It rear ended a vehicle on the southbound lane of Highway 53. There was also a crash on the northbound lane. What happened out there today was that the person in the vehicle was so intent on looking at the eagle itself, that it didn’t see the car stop in front of him and rear ended and that person was injured as a result and they didn’t have their seat belt on either.”
So, what exactly was wrong with the eagle? Officials still aren’t certain. They weren’t sure if something was already wrong with the eagle when it landed to investigate the raccoon carcass, and then couldn’t take off again. Or, if perhaps the eagle attacked the raccoon when it was alive and the raccoon somehow injured the eagle before the eagle killed it.
Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Deputies used a sheet to move in on the eagle. It didn’t try to fly away. The eagle was safely wrapped in the sheet by officials from the Department of Natural Resources.
Sheriff Cramer talked about how a rather innocuous incident turned into a major one because of the rubberneckers. “It takes a lot of people to take care of a crash like that.” He also talked about how much care the department has to take when it comes to an injured eagle.
“We’ll dispatch an injured deer, but when it comes to our national bird, we’re not shooting the bird.”
The bald eagle was taken by the Department of Natural Resources to the raptor center at the University of Minnesota. Officials hope that they can determine what is wrong with it, rehabilitate it, and return the bald eagle to the wild so that it can once again soar over the skies above the Upper Midwest.
Hopefully, when the bald eagle does, no drivers will take their attention off of the road in an attempt to get a look at it.
[Photos by Nick Laham, David McNew and Mark Wilson: Getty Images]