MENOMONIE— Scott and Marilyn Kregness of Tower, Minn., got the surprise of a lifetime just before 9 a.m. Friday when a bald eagle used interstate highway speeds to take up residence in a fire boat being taken from Florida to northern Minnesota.
As the couple crossed over the Red Cedar River on Interstate 94 near Menomonie, the eagle dove across the top of the pickup truck and crashed through the shrink-wrapped boat, near the pilot house.
“We do a lot of traveling, and I’ve never had anything like this,” Scott Kregness said.
An initial look over the crash site revealed a hole in the shrink wrap, but no blood or feathers, so the couple kept going. But a gentleman following them on the interstate pulled up beside them with his lights flashing and signaled for them to pull over. After pulling into the Menomonie rest stop, the other driver told Scott and Marilyn the eagle was still inside the boat.
Scott Kregness opened cover on the boat and crawled around to the back. He found the eagle down between the two motors, alive and upright.
“I thought at highway speeds it probably would have killed the bird,” Scott said. “The shrink wrapping on the boat must have softened the blow (to) the bird.”
At that point, a new realization hit the couple: “What do we do with this big eagle that’s not very happy?”
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to reach Department of Natural Resources contacts, Scott connected with Patti Stangel of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release, Inc., in Colfax.
“Within 25 minutes, Patti was here to take the bird out of the back of the boat,” Scott Kregness said.
Other than a little bleeding in the mouth, the eagle appeared to be in good health — as was the boat.
Stangel said after the bird is examined, it will be released again into the wild, assuming it is in good health. If not, it will be sent to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.
Scott and Marilyn continued the trip towards Breitung, Minn., where he has suggested that Fire Chief Steve Burgess name the boat Eagle One.