Eddie Erdmann, a resident of Anchorage’s Government Hill neighborhood, first noticed magpies in his front yard years ago.
“They’re in my yard all the time — there are two of them in particular, I swear they greet us when we get home,” he said. “They whistle at us.”
Erdmann has grown attached to the black-and-white birds. But on Friday evening, he noticed a magpie in a nearby tall spruce tree was stuck.
Erdmann soon set in motion a magpie rescue of sorts. Several people pitched in to help free the small bird, which was entangled in fishing line and couldn’t fly away.
Erdmann and his girlfriend were sitting in their front yard, enjoying a beautiful night and the last bit of sunlight. But then he saw a magpie at the very top of the spruce tree making strange motions.
It was falling, hanging upside down. Erdmann said at first he thought the bird was just having fun, joking that it was drunk.
“But then we saw him jump up and try to fly away, and then he immediately fell back into the tree. And that’s when we realized he’s stuck to that tree somehow,” Erdmann said.
The magpies — identifiable by patches of white on their wings, long tails and frequent squawking — that live by his home often come around while Erdmann is working in his garden.
He said he’ll call out to the birds and they’ll answer back (scientists have shown the birds can recognize themselves in mirrors).
“They’re actually really nice magpies,” he said. “They’re not annoying, like most of them are.”
He realized the bird he saw Friday night in the tree wasn’t able to get free. It was late, approaching 10 pm He started calling around, eventually connecting with the Bird Treatment and Learning Center.
Laura Atwood, the center’s executive director, said after hearing about the issue, she began to realize how challenging the rescue would be. Spruce trees are tall and skinny — and difficult to climb up safely.
She remembered that a local tree service had previously helped with cats stuck in trees.
That’s where arborist David Kaznakoff comes in. He was off work, watching television and eating dinner when his supervisor at Gage Tree Service called and asked if he “wanted to do something real crazy.”
Kaznakoff was interested. His supervisor told him about a magpie stuck in a tree that needed saving, and Kaznakoff said he was on it.
“I jump up, put my shoes on, drove to the shop, got the bucket truck and drove out to the site,” he said. Upon arriving, Kaznakoff introduced himself and saw the bird in the tree struggling. He gathered his gear, put on a safety harness, grabbed an emergency blanket and hoisted himself some 60 feet up. The little bird was excited, but not happy to see Kaznakoff.
“I just talked to him a little bit, just telling him everything’s gonna be all right,” he said.
He tossed the blanket over the top of the tree and tucked the corners in so the bird was snug. He realized that the bird was seriously tangled in some fishing line, all the way up its leg and into its tail feathers.
So, first, Kaznakoff cut the tree branch the bird was stuck on, then pulled gently and used his pocket knife to snip through the fishing line. Then he took off the blanket, and the bird flew away.
Erdmann was appreciative and said Kaznakoff thanked him for telling the tree service about it — that helping the magpie was an honor.
“Magpies are very beautiful birds,” Kaznakoff said. “And anything I could do to help and be a positive member of society is great for me.”
Not all birds that get entangled in fishing lines are able to be rescued, according to a statement from Maggie McConkey, the director of operations at Bird TLC. The organization receives hundreds of calls each summer about birds twisted up in the stuff, she wrote.
Bird TLC posted on Facebook about the rescue, saying it was “a good reminder to pick up fishing line.”
The following day, Erdmann said he saw a magpie that was limping around.
“I think that’s probably the one he helped,” he said.