Towboat owner Mitch Kramer has rescued many a boat but what he saved just before the Fourth of July was a venerable symbol of the nation -- stranded in the middle of the Long Island Sound.
Kramer had been on his way to a Connecticut call and warned the bird to behave if it wanted to be rescued. "I said 'You're to get one shot with it,' " he said Tuesday.
"It was sort of flailing its wings, trying to keep his body above the water," said Kramer, 47, owner of TowBoat US in Oyster Bay. "I was able to grab both of its wings -- and kept my fingers crossed it wasn't going to jab me with its beak or doing anything with its talons."
Now stable, the bald eagle -- dubbed Indy for Independence Day -- is expected to be transported Wednesday to the Raptor Trust, a New Jersey rehabilitation group, by its temporary caretaker, My Pet's Vet in Huntington, where Kramer's wife, Donna, works as a manager.
Indy was identified as a bald eagle first at the veterinarian's office, which used online photos of bald eagles. Then photos of Indy were sent to the Raptor Trust, which confirmed the conclusion.
The bird, probably less than a year old, was underweight at 6.5 pounds, Donna Kramer said.
"She was skeletal," she said. "She's very thin, very weak. She was covered in lice, so she was weakened by something. We just believe she was a baby who maybe couldn't fend well for herself."
De-liced, Indy was given fluids, antibiotics, eye medication and raw steak, the practice's manager said. The bird, whose gender was not yet determined, was placed in an isolation ward to prevent further stress, she said.
Wednesday, Indy will make its journey to the nonprofit in Millington, N.J., that rehabilitates about 3,700 birds each year, from song birds to endangered ones.
Bald eagles were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007. They had become endangered after toxic pollutants killed off many and damaged breeding efforts.
In New York, where sightings of the raptor have increased, its status has been upgraded from endangered to threatened.
On the Island, bald eagle sightings have also been on the rise, said Stella Miller, president of the Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society.
One young bald eagle was radio-tagged on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and tracked back to Long Island, Miller said. Last year, an adult was seen in Cold Spring Harbor, she said, and eight years ago, a juvenile eagle rescued in Glen Cove was set free.
"You hear about more and more of them," Miller said. "It's unusual, but it's not phenomenally unusual."
When Indy is healthy, it will be freed, likely back on Long Island, said Kristi Ward, a rehabilitator at the Trust.
Ward said Indy may have gotten waterlogged trying to catch a fish. "With any luck, hopefully he did just go down and couldn't get himself up out of the water," she said, "and he'll just need a short period of stretching out his wings and getting his bearings."