Rescuing Wildlife Is Good for Them and Us

The author removes cast netting from the eagles’ nest in September 2020. Photos by Frank Steiger Photography.

I received a call in mid-September 2020 from Audubon Florida’s EagleWatch program. While studying an eagle’s nest on Marco Island, just off of Naples, Florida, someone noticed a cast netting – used by those fishing for shrimp or baitfish – entangled within the nest site. Entangled birds cannot defend themselves against predators, cannot feed themselves or their chicks and often cannot free themselves without human assistance.

Over the years, we have helped various organizations by utilizing our specialized skills and equipment, and this was another opportunity to do so. Working with the National Audubon Society, the necessary permissions were acquired from federal and state authorities to remove the netting. On September 18, the Signature Tree Care team arrived on site.

We placed a line over a limb within 2 feet of the eagle nest, and I hit a button and rode our Ronin Lift ascender up to the nest, which was about 80 feet up. Fortunately for me, there were no eaglets for the parents to protect. Only one of the two eagles that call the nest home was on site, and it quickly exited as we approached.

Also fortunate for me, the monofilament netting covering the nest was not enmeshed in the nest structure, and I was able to remove the entire piece of netting, about 2 feet by 4 feet, pretty easily and return to the ground.

It was that simple. But what a great honor and experience to partake in providing a service that could essentially help preserve one of our nation’s greatest symbols.

As often happens, a crowd gathered, photos were taken and children, other community members and the team who made it happen shared in a positive, meaningful experience. As evening came on, both eagles were safely back in the nest.

Making it a habit

Since 2004, the Signature Tree Care team has assisted in bird renestings for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other organizations. For me, working with people dedicated to caring for animals in our urban environment is a good thing; it is a pleasure to work with people like that.

It began for me with one of my first life lessons at the age of 5. There was heightened activity in a birdhouse we had atop a 15-foot pole, with the parents flitting in and out with food and all the chirping of the new hatchlings. Curiosity got the best of me, and I violently shook the pole to see what it would produce. Out flew an egg and landed on the ground; it cracked open and a baby bird, still in the yoke, was before my eyes.

I knew something terrible had happened as a direct result of my action and that something had to be done to fix the situation. My mom carefully picked up the broken egg and unborn baby bird and placed it in a large flower of a tree. “There,” she said, “this is what God would want us to do. We must do our best to protect and not to disturb nature.” I realized then that some things cannot be fixed, but can only be prevented from happening.

The crew placed a line over a limb within 2 feet of the eagle nest, then the author rode a Ronin Lift ascender up to the nest, which was about 80 feet up.

I once found myself free climbing a 60-foot Australian pine, barefoot, and walking out to the tip of a limb to work loose a pelican entangled upside down in fishing line. Another time I gave a pelican with a broken wing a ride to the wildlife shelter. I will never forget all the funny looks I got driving through town with a pelican sitting in the front seat.

In 2008, I was watching from the lift bucket as my wife, Stephanie, along with the director of wildlife rehab at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, chased an eagle that needed to be renested around the golf course as if it were a giant chicken. These experiences I will always appreciate.

Volunteering has been incredibly fun and fulfilling, creates adventure and lasting memories and develops camaraderie among the team. As arborists, we have the skills and equipment to fill a unique role in our communities that also showcases our industry’s professionalism. We want to align ourselves with clients who seek value in who we are, who recognize commitment, passion, dedication and effort that result in high-quality services. Volunteering helps facilitate that alignment in many cases.

What can arborists do? You can choose to come back to remove a tree after the birds have fledged. You can educate the client on the habitat value the tree represents. This can turn a one-time removal into a long-term pruning program with multiple visits, which may include a plant-health-care program.

We make choices daily that impact nature, and people do take notice. Arboriculture places us in a unique position to be stewards for trees. We are a liaison between nature and the public.

For some clients, the walk-through with us may be the only time they spend looking at their trees in detail. As arborists, we have a short period of time to relate to our clients and give advice they may not hear from anyone else concerning the value of their trees and how those trees play a role in the urban canopy.

Ian Orlikoff, CTSP, is owner and lead ISA Certified Arborist with Signature Tree Care, LLC, a six-year TCIA member company based in Naples, Florida.

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