A bald eagle makes a rare close-up encounter in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation

Danny Ward is still in awe of the bald eagle that jumped into the brush of the Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, then rested and spread its wings a few feet away from him.

” I was surprised. I have no words,” Ward said of Sunday’s gathering in the northeastern New Brunswick community.

Ward’s cousin, Billy Francis, had called to say the bird of prey was in his yard and not moving. Ward walked through the snow until he was about six meters from the bird.

The Mi’kmaw elder said he then began a smudging ceremony, prayed, made a tobacco offering and sang an eagle honor song. As he sang, another eagle passed over his head.

At the end of the song, Ward said, the bird jumped from a stump and, in a moment captured on video, calmly approached him and a group of family and neighborhood children. who had gathered.

“I spoke to him in Mi’kmaq and then he started walking until he was about six feet from me,” he said.

Avian 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 carry it away for control.

Nick Brown, a department spokesman, confirmed that an eagle had been captured in the area and sent for bird flu testing in Prince Edward Island. He said the processing could take several weeks.

WATCH / The bald eagle takes a rare, ‘once in a lifetime’ approach

Close encounter of an eagle in New Brunswick stuns onlookers

A bald eagle from Esgenoôpetitj First Nation calmly jumped through the brush and stopped a few meters from a group of people. 1:59

Avian influenza has been confirmed in New Brunswick and is a possibility in the case of the bald eagle, as the disease spreads easily to birds of prey. Birds are tested for disease by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Pam Novak of the Atlantic Wildlife Institute said birds of prey quickly become symptomatic and can pick up the disease from a bird that carries it. She said it’s rare for an eagle to approach humans and speculated about what happened in Esgenoôpetitj.

“It could be a variety of things where, if he’s sick, or if he’s scared in some way, or if he’s near his nesting site and trying to defend his territory” , she said.

Danny Ward said he was within feet of the bald eagle captured in this photo in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation. (Submitted by Danny Ward)

The Cookville Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, about 65 kilometers southeast of Moncton, has stopped accepting new birds now that avian flu has been confirmed. Calls about injured birds are forwarded to a designated avian flu hotline.

‘Once in a lifetime’

Despite a potentially fatal outcome for the eagle, the dozen or so Esgenoôpetitj residents who spotted it are grateful for the experience.

Ward said the eagle is a “powerful” bird in Mi’kmaq culture and flies the highest, carrying people’s prayers across the sky to the creator. The feathers of the bird are used for ceremonial purposes.

“For me, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, to see an eagle alive like this and in the wild,” he said.