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Law protects even dead bald eagles

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a local resident who had found a dead bald eagle along the Apple River.

The bird had apparently flown down from a tree and died along the river, frozen in place with its wings spread. The cause of death was probably related to starvation or lead poisoning. The bird's breast bone was very obvious, suggesting that it was not eating well.

Bald eagles are very susceptible to lead poisoning at this time of the year. They scavenge road kills and gut piles. Many times the gut piles contain lead fragments from the disintegration of the hunter's bullet. Although it is well past the end of deer season, it may take a while for the lead to affect the eagle.

People often wonder what happens to bald eagles that are picked up by conservation agencies. We usually do not test them for cause of death unless it appears they were intentionally killed.

In an effort to protect these birds, the U.S. Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940. That law prohibits taking, transporting, selling, bartering, trading, importing and exporting and possession of bald eagles.

The bald eagle that we picked up was shipped to the National Eagle Repository at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver, Colo.

Once an eagle arrives at the repository, each bird is assigned a number for tracking and accountability purposes. The condition of each eagle and their feathers is noted and the age is recorded.

The repository serves as a clearinghouse for distributing eagles to enrolled members of federally recognized tribes. Tribal members must obtain a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service authorizing them to receive and possess eagle feathers for religious purposes.

There are approximately 5,000 people on the waiting list to receive an eagle and the repository usually receives only 1,000 eagles a year.

The salvage efforts by the Fish and Wildlife Service provide a legal means for Native Americans to acquire eagle feathers for religious purposes.

Not all bald eagles are salvaged. Some are not safe to pick up and others may have been out in the hot sun, making their pickup very difficult.

If you find a dead bald eagle, and it appears to be in good condition, it is best to leave it where it is and try to call a conservation agency to see if they will pick it up. Sometimes they will be able to pick up the eagle and other times it may not work out.

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