The eagle has landed in Calvert County — well, sort of.

Rebecca Atkins was driving through Route 4, a state highway she usually takes to work in Prince Frederick from her home in St. Mary’s County, when she saw wings slamming onto her car.

“It literally came out of nowhere,” she said. “I didn’t really have a lot of time to react.”

Atkins pulled over to the side of the road, sure that it was a vulture, a common sight in the rural country. She could still see the wings when she parked her vehicle, still enough that she thought she had a dead bird stuck in the front grill of her SUV.

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As Atkins walked out of her car to inspect it, the eagle turned and looked straight at her.

Atkins ran back to her vehicle.

“Oh my god,” she thought to herself. “What am I going to do?”

The Chesapeake Bay region is home to the largest concentration of bald eagles in the Lower 48 states, with at least 1,400 pairs of eagles breeding in Maryland as of January 2022, according to the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership. We are entering “hatching and rearing young” season, during which female eagles are brooding the small chicks while the males get and deliver food to the nest.

The eagle was flying very low, Atkins said. The police officer and animal control told her it was likely because it saw a roadkill, or something that resembled an animal. Its feet hit the car first, Atkins said.

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“It was almost like he thought maybe he could land on the hood of my car,” Atkins said. “I don’t know how birds work.”

She collected her thoughts and called the Calvert County Sheriff’s Department, giving her location as best she could. The officers, Atkins said, were also amazed that the eagle, still clutching onto the front of the SUV, was alive. They called animal control.

Calvert County animal control officer Hannah Neel carries an eagle that flew into a car’s grill and survived the encounter. (courtesy of Rebecca Atkins)

As they waited, it all became a spectacle. Cars from both sides of the highway pulled over to take pictures of the bald eagle, and a group began to surround it. The police officers were worried traffic was becoming unsafe, Atkins said. So she moved the car up a road in the next turn, where they could all park in a church’s parking lot. The bird was very scared, Atkins said, even as she tried to drive as slowly as she safely could. It kept flapping its wings, trying to get free, to no avail.

When the resource officer from animal control pulled into the parking lot, Atkins began to laugh.

“Oh my god, how are you?” she said. The officer was Hannah Neel, a young woman who had worked with her at a women’s clothing store where Atkins was a manager years ago.

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Neel carefully got the bird’s feet out of the grill and inspected the bird, Atkins said, assessing its condition. The eagle had been stuck for about an hour and 20 minutes. Then, they all walked to the end of the parking lot, where Neel put the eagle on the ground to see if it would fly away.

It did, Atkins said, landing about 25 feet away. It sat there for a few minutes — it probably was just nervous, Atkins said — until it got its bearings.

Then off the eagle flew, she said.