Taking a pot shot at the most recognizable living symbol of the United States is about as un-American as you can get, yet that’s apparently what someone did to a bald eagle caught by U.S. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge staff last week.
“There were no broken wings, but veterinarians did find pellets or BBs is one of the wings,” said refuge biologist Liz Jozwiak.
The refuge became aware of the injured eagle after receiving several calls March 23 from concerned citizens who saw the bird grounded near the numerous seafood processing plants off of Bridge Access Road.
“I got the first call around 7 p.m. and ran down there. I was able to locate the bird but it was out on unstable ice (in the Kenai River),” said Toby Burke, a biological technician at the refuge.
Burke said he received another call the following day, and again responded immediately.
“This time when I got there it was in an even more inaccessible location,” he said.
More calls came in and more days went by, but Wednesday Burke got a call that the eagle was on land, so he quickly headed toward the location with net in hand.
But even though the bird was on land and injured, the capture wasn’t simple.
“People only see eagles flying, so they don’t realize how fast they can run, but when they’re scared, they’re just like a chicken,” he said.
Burke said the bird scurried over the snow and ice while he -- being much heavier -- kept punching through in slow pursuit.
“I just kept booking it after him and I was finally able to run him down and net him near the Salamatof Seafood parking lot,” he said.
The eagle was transported back to the refuge, where it was given fluids to help stabilize it. The bird was then flown -- free of charge courtesy of Era Aviation -- to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, where it was deduced the bird had been shot.
The eagle still is undergoing treatment, but Jozwiak said all reports she has received are that the bird is in good condition.
“Its wings have been wrapped up and it is eating very well,” she said.
Jozwiak said that information related to the incident will be turned over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers, who may -- since the bird was found outside the refuge -- work in concert with Alaska State Troopers Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement division to conduct an investigation.
Bald eagle are federally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. As such, hunting, harming or harassing them is an offense punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.
That wasn’t the only injured bird report the refuge has responded to in the past week, Jozwiak said. She also received a call late Thursday afternoon that an injured eagle was seen in Centennial Park in Soldotna.
Jozwiak said she was able to locate the bird, and rather than flying away -- initially -- it was hopping around on the ground. She said this is odd behavior for an eagle that is not near a food source, which none was present.
“It also looked like their were some ruffled feather on its right wing tip,” she said.
When she moved in for a closer look, the bird awkwardly too flight.
“It wasn’t flying very strongly. It stuck close to the ground and dropped feathers in flight,” she said.
Jozwiak said she hoped the bird would return and that someone would call the refuge to report it so she can try to catch it again to ensure it is not injured.
To report an injured eagle or other bird, call the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge at 262-7021.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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