MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It took eight years, but Jon Smithers’ obsession with photographing a banded eagle finally paid off.

Smithers, a wildlife photographer in St. Peter, managed to pick out all nine digits on the eagle’s band through a series of photographs over the years. When he gave the number to the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, they matched it to an eaglet that had been rescued and banded in 1998 after high winds blew down his nest in Chaska.

Smithers said he became hooked on photography in 2003 after seeing a pair of eagles perched high above the Minnesota River. A month later, he noticed a metal band around the male’s lower leg.

“Ever since I saw that band, I really wanted to know the story behind the eagle,” he told the Star Tribune this week.

Smithers acquired more powerful camera lenses, which allowed him to distinguish numbers on the band. He identified the first four in 2008, and a 2010 photo showed the next several. A photo last April gave him the ninth and final digit.

“It’s highly unusual to have a situation where someone can actually read the band number on a bird that’s still an active member of the population,” said Lori Arent, Raptor Center clinic manager.

The bird’s rescue in 1998 was a tale in itself.

Jim Cook is vice president of technical services at Gedney Foods Co., which owned the property on which the eaglet lived. He was part of the team that rescued the bird, with the help of the Raptor Center and state Department of Natural Resources.

The eaglet had a broken pelvis, and it was decided that the best option was returning it to a nest and the care of its parents. Cook and others quickly assembled a makeshift nest out of an industrial fan — stripped of its protective screen — and wove willow branches through the mesh to give the birds a start on a new stick nest.

Cook said volunteers then waited to see if the eagle’s parents would return.

“It was agonizing for two days,” said Cook. “Then, here came one of the eagles with a snake in its claws, and dropped the snake into the nest. That was great, because we knew they were back to feeding the eaglet.”

Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com


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