EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Taking photographs of bald eagles is a longtime passion for photographer Russel Hons, who says he loves the grace and beauty of the animal as well as what it represents.
But as he stopped to check on a nest near East Grand Forks Sunday night, something caught Hons' eye — a bird that looked like a turkey was near the base of the tree.
With a closer look through the lens, Hons realized the nest he has been watching for the past four years had fallen 60 feet from a tree with two eaglets inside.
The two flightless juvenile birds, which had not yet developed the signature white head feathers of adult bald eagles, looked like turkeys.
Helping them would not be a straightforward task. With one of the parent eagles chirping from high above, Hons was concerned one of the full-grown bird would swoop down and come after him.
He spent the next couple of hours on the phone calling authorities in North Dakota and Minnesota, regional raptor expert Tim Driscoll, of Grand Forks, and finally the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, which requested photos of the birds.
Raptor center staff told Hons that its staff had a chance of saving the two young bald eagles and that he should bring them to St. Paul for treatment.
Michael Bogart, another local photographer, drove to the site with a tote, and Hons said he picked up the eaglets without any issues. By about 8 p.m. Sunday, they were in a crate riding back to Hons’ residence.
Hons kept them in a cage in his garage until Monday morning.
"They made a big mess. They are obviously eating healthy out here because I have a big mess to clean up in my garage," he said, laughing.
Hons put out a request on Facebook seeking help getting the eaglets to the Twin Cities and had a response within 5 minutes. Grand Forks County sheriff’s deputy and Army veteran Lee Mewes, who served a tour in Afghanistan, offered to use his day off to drive the eagle chicks to the Twin Cities.
Mewes, who had to get permission from federal fish and game authorities to transport the birds to the Twin Cities, picked them up Monday afternoon.
Hons says the Raptor Center told him if the birds can be rehabilitated and released into the wild again they would try to return to their nest in East Grand Forks.
It isn't yet clear how the birds are doing, and Hons says he just hopes he will one day be able to snap some shots of them flying high.
"These beautiful birds," he said. "They are so fun to watch."
Forum News Service reporter Brad Dokken contributed to this report