Unalaska’s had its first bald eagle attack of the nesting season.
Local runner Joni Scott earned the painful distinction last week while training for a half-marathon.
“It was a typical day,” she said. “I went out for my run. Started at my house in the valley.”
Scott has been running the same roughly seven-mile route almost every day for the past three months. But on this outing, something different happened — something sharp and sudden.
“I had just passed the clinic and was right in front of NAPA [auto parts store],” she said. “Something hit me on the back of the head. It was just instantly, like, Bam! And I went, like, ‘Ouch!'”
As she stopped to take stock of the pain, Scott looked around for her attacker.
“I kind of thought a kid had hit me with a baseball bat, so I was going to whip around and say something like, ‘That was really rude,'” she said. “I turned around and there was no one there, and I thought, ‘I know I got hit because I lunged forward.’ So I reached up, felt my head, and came back with my hand full of blood, and I thought, ‘Oh.'”
The eagle was perched on a light pole nearby. Scott said she saw it while crossing the street to the clinic, as blood dripped down her face.
“I guess I’m pretty lucky,” she said. “I just had two gashes on my head, and [nurse practitioner Clare Lattimore] stapled them both up.”
How many staples?
“I think five,” Scott said.
While she’s the first to catch some talons this summer, Scott is hardly the only Unalaskan with a raptor story.
Sergeant Kevin Wood said the city’s Department of Public Safety takes reports of five to 10 eagle attacks every year — many in the same area that Scott was hit.
“The biggest issues we have are near the clinic or down by the Dutch Harbor post office,” Wood said. “They are definitely the hot spots of the island.”
Several eagles build nests in those cliffy areas, using the outcroppings to protect their young. When people pass by, Wood said their territorial instincts sometimes kick in and send them swooping with sharp beaks, strong talons and wingspans up to seven feet.
The city advises Unalaskans to avoid nests entirely or take extra care passing them. The main areas are marked every summer by signs that read “Danger: Nesting Eagles” and depict the silhouette of a raptor diving towards a person who has their arms raised.
That’s the stance to take during an attack, according to Wood.
“If you do see an eagle coming towards you, definitely what you want to do is try to duck to avoid them,” he said. “Utilize your arms to protect your head. And just be very observant of your surroundings.”
Scott is doing just that as she gets back into her running routine. She said she’s changed her route to bypass any known nests, but she’s also making sure she doesn’t let her raptor encounter slow her down.
“It definitely has put a little damper on it for me mentally,” she laughed. “But I’ll still be able to run the half marathon. I’ll be OK.”
Nesting season will last through the end of the summer.
For Unalaskans who may encounter eagles, here’s a final safety reminder. As the birds are protected by federal law, you can shield yourself during an attack — but you can’t actually fight back. Harassing or hitting an eagle could earn you a $10,000 fine.