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Bald Eagle No. 629-15689: The story of a gunned-down national symbol 

Some years back - at least five, anyway - somewhere in the Northwest a blessed event took place high up in a bald eagle nest.

click to enlarge natural-world_bald-eagle-camas2.jpg

Some years back - at least five, anyway - somewhere in the Northwest a blessed event took place high up in a bald eagle nest. After patiently taking turns incubating an egg for 35 days, mom and dad eagle watched their offspring slowly emerge from the cracked eggshell, flopping exhaustedly in the huge, grass-lined nest of sticks.

At about four weeks of age, a coat of gray down covered the chick, and, in another two weeks or so, black and gray flight feathers began to grow, covering the gray downy fuzz. By eight weeks, the eagle was leaping up and down on the nest, flapping its wings energetically, preparing for the Big Day when it would leave the nest and go out on its first flight with the adults. Once powerful enough to feed itself and fly free, the young bird wandered away with other young eagles, perhaps occasionally returning to its natal site over the course of the next four years.

At about five years old, she probably had a mate and may have been caring for her young. But during early June 2008, tragedy interrupted her normal routine. While out foraging for food near Ukiah, Ore., she spotted a deer that had been killed by a motor vehicle, and swooped down to feed.

Murphy's Law states that, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." As the eagle swooped down to feed on the dead deer, Murphy struck. A motorcycle coming around the curve collided with her and she went tumbling off into the brush alongside the road.

The driver of the motorcycle came to a safe stop. Right behind him was a Forest Service employee driving a pickup equipped with a radio. Once the F.S. person was satisfied that the driver was not inured, he called the 911 dispatcher and reported the incident. The dispatcher immediately called Lynn Thompson at Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic in Pendleton.

What follows is Blue Mt. Wildlife's call log:

"06-21-08 - Today's excitement started with a call from Umatilla County dispatch reporting that an eagle had been hit by a motorcycle eight miles east of Ukiah. There was a Forest Service employee on-site, but he had no way of restraining the bird for transport.

"The bird was supposed to be at mile-marker eight on Hwy. 244 between Ukiah and La Grande. We saw two flags just before reaching the marker. They were on the side of the road that dropped off steeply, almost directly into Camas Creek! After looking up and down the creek for 15 or 20 minutes, Bob spotted what he thought could be a white head about 100 yards on the other side of the creek.

"The water wasn't nearly as cold as I thought it would be, but it came up to my knees in spots and the current was quite swift. After several close calls, I reached the other side without falling in. From his vantage point, Bob guided me toward the white head. I finally caught a glimpse of an adult bald eagle through the brush and trees. The eagle couldn't fly, but had no trouble running! After chasing it around for several minutes (we were both huffing and puffing), I managed to herd it into some thick brush that it got tangled up in and had both feet and wings restrained and a towel wadded up in a ball and firmly clenched in the eagle's very large feet...an adult female (thought to be about five years old) I am sure. I noticed no obvious fractures, but there was quite a bit of blood in her mouth.

"After two months of treatment for two broken ribs, and continual observations, the eagle was banded with USGS band number, 629-15689, and released on 08-21-08, near Ukiah, Ore."

On May 29, 2010, the USGS Banding laboratory notified me that my band, No. 629-15698, placed on a rehabbed Bald Eagle on 08-21-08, had been sent back to the lab by Elizabeth Willy of Klamath Falls, having been removed from a dead bald eagle found near Chiliquin, Oregon.

As it is, I write to every person who returns a band in order to get more information; this is her reply:

"Hi Jim,

Thank you for sending the information regarding the bald eagle for which I returned band data in April. It is always nice to know the history of the birds involved in these incidences. I am happy to share the little bit of information I do have about how I came to be involved with this eagle. From what I understand, a member of the Klamath Tribe was contacted about a dead eagle found near the Williamson River in Chiloquin. The Tribe member brought the dead eagle to my office and notified us that it had apparently been shot. We contacted our law enforcement officer who later that week picked up the eagle. The law enforcement officer was/is conducting an investigation into this matter, but I do not have any additional information as to the status of the investigation."

What a waste. After all the effort and expense to save the eagle - asymbol of our country - someone shot it, and for what? It seems people should have better things to do with their spare time than shoot eagles for target practice. There's one ray of sunshine, however. It turns out Elizabeth works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, and is in a good position to track the progress of finding the person, or persons, who shot and killed 629-15689.

Whoever, and wherever you are, I hope you have trouble sleeping.


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