Danny Ward is still in awe of the bald eagle that jumped through a brush in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, then rested and spread its wings just a few feet away from him.
“I was surprised. I have no words,” Ward said of the meeting Sunday in the Northeast New Brunswick community.
Ward’s cousin Billy Francis had called to say the bird of prey was in his backyard and not moving. Ward wandered through the snow until he was about six feet from the bird.
Mi’kmaw Elder said he then started a smear ceremony, prayed, sacrificed tobacco and sang an eagle song. While he was singing, another eagle passed by.
When the song ended, Ward said, the bird jumped off a stump, and in a moment recorded on video, he calmly approached him and a group of family and neighborhood children gathered.
“I talked to him in Mi’kmaq, and then he started coming over until he was almost six feet away from me,” he said.
Bird flu risk
When the eagle remained 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 spokesman for the department, confirmed that an eagle had been collected in the area and was sent for testing for bird flu on Prince Edward Island. He said it could take several weeks to process.
WATCH / Bald Eagle makes a rare “once-in-a-lifetime” approach
The bird flu has been confirmed in New Brunswick and is a possibility in the case of the bald eagle, as the disease easily spreads to birds of prey. Birds are being tested for the disease by the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Pam Novak of the Atlantic Wildlife Institute said birds of prey quickly become symptomatic and can get the disease from a bird that carries it. She said it is rare for an eagle to approach humans, and wondered what happened in Esgenoôpetitj.
“It can be a variety of things if it is sick, or if it is frightened in some way, or if it is near its nesting site and trying to defend its territory,” she said.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Cookville, about 65 miles southeast of Moncton, has stopped receiving new birds now that the bird flu has been confirmed. Calls for injured birds are referred to a designated bird flu telephone line.
‘Once in a lifetime’
Despite a potentially fatal outcome for the eagle, about a dozen people in Esgenoôpetitj who saw it are grateful for the experience.
Ward said the eagle is a “powerful” bird in the Mi’kmaw culture and flies highest and takes people’s prayers through the sky to the creator. The bird’s feathers are used for ceremonial purposes.
“For me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, seeing an eagle alive that way and in the wild,” he said.