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Bald eagle survives 80-mile journey caught in a train

A juvenile bald eagle was brought to an animal rehabilitation center in La Crosse, Wisconsin after being hit more than 80 miles away.

Eagle recovery Kate Trueblood Casey Jones.jpg
Kate Trueblood, left and Casey Jones examine a juvenile bald eagle that had been caught in the front guardrail of a train on Jan. 10, 2022. Railway staff said the raptor was struck near Stockholm, Wis., and ended up in La Crosse.
Photo contributed by Coulee Region Humane Society and Wildlife Rehabilitation
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LA CROSSE — A call about a raptor possibly struck by a train isn’t an unusual call to the Coulee Region Humane Society and Wildlife Rehabilitation.

One that appears to have come out of the impact unscathed is more unusual.

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A raptor riding more than 80 miles stuck to the train, that’s a first for Kathy KasaKaitas, animal control supervisor and wildlife rehabilitator at the Coulee Region Humane Society.

A juvenile bald eagle — likely a female — rode caught in a front guardrail of a train engine from about Stockholm, Wis., across the Mississippi River from Lake City, to La Crosse.

When Katy Trueblood and Casey Jones responded to a call on Jan. 10 from the Canadian Pacific Railway in La Crosse about the stuck raptor, they found both its wings had been wedged into the rail – one pushed back and one folded over.

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“She couldn’t free herself,” KasaKaitas said.

Eagle recovery Casey Jones.jpg
Casey Jones examines a juvenile bald eagle at the Coulee Region Humane Society and Wildlife Rehabilitation center. The raptor had been caught in the front guardrail of a train Jan. 10, 2022. Railway staff said the raptor was struck near Stockholm, Wisconsin and ended up in La Crosse.
Photo contributed by Coulee Region Humane Society and Wildlife Rehabilitation

When KasaKaitas examined the eagle, she didn’t notice any obvious breaks or injuries.

“It pulled both its wings in tight and strong,” she said.

The eagle had clear eyes and no signs of head trauma. It also wasn’t missing any feathers.

“It was very alert and very feisty,” she said. “Feisty is good.”

Eagles sometimes scavenge kill on and around railroad tracks. It's not entirely uncommon that they get hit. Usually, the outcome isn't good for the eagle, KasaKaitas said.

As KasaKaitas began preparing paperwork on the case, she had staff check with the railway company where the bird had been struck by the train.

Staff checked with the Canadian Pacific Railway. The engineer reported it happened near Stockholm.

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“I didn’t even know where that was,” KasaKaitas said. “The poor thing rode stuck in the front of that train for over 80 miles.”

Eagle recovery.jpg
A juvenile bald eagle reacts to being handled at the Coulee Region Humane Society and Wildlife Rehabilitation center. The raptor had been caught in the front guardrail of a train Jan. 10, 2022. Railway staff said the raptor was struck near Stockholm, Wisconsin and ended up in La Crosse.
Photo contributed by Coulee Region Humane Society and Wildlife Rehabilitation

In remote areas, the trains reach speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. Although eagles can dive up to 100 miles per hour, that’s on their own volition and a short amount of time. A long trip at high speed could still have caused some internal injuries.

That’s why the raptor is still being held in La Crosse and will be sent to the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, Wis., for further evaluation. Staff there will see how the eagle flies in a larger flight pen and test it for lead, which KasaKaitas is standard procedure for bald eagles brought to rehabilitation.

However, KasaKaitas said the raptor’s appetite and attitude have been healthy. The eagle is eating fish and donated venison.

“She’s one lucky bird,” she said.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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