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Alaska city finally gets OK to remove dive-bombing eagle's nest

In Unalaska, the nest of the attack eagle will be gone soon enough. The city has a permit to take it down. Meanwhile, one of the bird’s victims is playing it safe by adjusting his attitude.

To keep his head together, not clawed or bleeding, Fred Elias says he thinks good thoughts now when he walks past the eagle’s nest on Airport Beach Road across from city hall in Unalaska. The eagle came down on his head a few years ago, and the way he sees it, he brought it on himself:

I was thinking bad thoughts about someone. Then something hit me from behind. I thought someone had thrown something from a car at me. Then I saw the eagle swoop off. It swooped down like a dive bomber. Then I noticed I was bleeding. Blood was trickling down my face.” So he walked the short distance to the city public safety department, and a police officer gave him a ride to the clinic for bandaging, before continuing on foot to the supermarket. Now when I walk by the nest, I always think good thoughts. They can sense things.

Unalaska city engineer Tyler Zimmerman said the city has obtained permits to remove eagle nests at two locations. The nest of the attack eagle, who has dive-bombed several residents over the years, would be gone now, were it not for heavy snow that prevented workers from safely climbing to the site in February, he said.

“If it wasn’t for the snow this year, we’d probably have the removal done already,” Zimmerman said.

The total snowfall, measured at the Unalaska airport, was 131 inches. When the snow finally melted enough, nesting season was underway with the birds first fixing up the nest, and then eggs were laid. So nothing can be done until the eagles leave the nest, probably in late August.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit requires 10 days of inactivity prior to nest removal, verified by 15 minutes of observation each day. Since the nest is conveniently located across from city hall, a city hall staffer will monitor the nest by looking out a window, Zimmerman said.

The other nest is on the S-curves on Airport Beach Road, between Gilman Road and the Dutch Harbor Post Office. This one required a $15,000 removal fee to Fish and Wildlife, because the nest is being removed in advance of a construction project. The pathway project will fill a big gap in the cross-town pedestrian walkway, along the scenic waterfront curves on the town’s main road.

No fee was required for the city hall nest removal, because that permit authorizes the removal of a safety hazard, Zimmerman said.

The city got the permits with the help of consultant and wildlife biologist Chris Hoffman, formerly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who said he worked on eider duck issues for Unalaska’s new boat harbor while with the Corps.

Hoffman said he’s working on another eagle-nest removal permit in the Aleutians, in Akutan, where a two-mile road will be built between the village and the harbor, with construction a year or two away.

Meanwhile, Fred Elias works on good thoughts and good works. Sometimes, when he’s walking around town, people stop and give him rides. The Russian Orthodox priest, Andrew Kashevarof gave him a lift, and Fred told him about his interior woodworking maintenance skills.

Father Andrew, originally from St. Paul, mentioned that he was doing some work on the historic Bishop’s House, and wondered if Elias might like to help.

“I said sure, as long as you don’t mind a Jewish guy helping out,” said Fred, a native of Brooklyn, NY, a former machinist in Massachusetts, an apple picker and violinist in Vermont, an Alaska seafood processor, and in Unalaska, still a chess buff.

So, in the shadow of the Church of the Holy Ascension, Elias helped rehab the Bishop’s House, with eagles not far away, perching but not nesting, on Russian crosses atop the church. And, Elias added, the house still needs a lot of work and more donated labor.

This story first appeared in The Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.