By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
MUKILTEO — An injured bald eagle found in Japanese Gulch later died of wounds it likely suffered during a territorial fight with another eagle, officials with a wildlife rescue group said Tuesday.
Two mountain bikers came across the eagle on Monday afternoon while riding on a trail through the gulch. The natural area straddles the border of Everett and Mukilteo.
The eagle was still alive when the bike riders called the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, of Lynnwood. The organization sent two staff members to rescue the bird, but by the time they arrived, it had died.
Staff at PAWS X-rayed and examined the eagle Tuesday morning.
“He was not shot as far as we could tell,” wildlife director Jennifer Convy said. “He had a number of punctures and bruising on one leg that was pretty bad.”
The bird will now be sent to the National Eagle Repository in Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Colo., northeast of Denver.
The repository is run by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. It stores bald and golden eagles found dead and distributes their parts, such as feathers, beaks and talons, to American Indian tribes that apply to receive them for religious purposes.
If the eagle had been shot, it would have been sent to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife center in Ashland, Ore., for a necropsy, said Joan Jewett, a spokeswoman for the department in Portland. A criminal investigation would have been conducted, she said.
Eagles were removed from the federal list of endangered species in 2007 but are still afforded protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940, which has been updated several times since.
According to the law, it’s illegal to take, possess, sell, buy, barter, transport, import or export any bald or golden eagle or any of their parts, nests or eggs.
“Take” means “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb,” according to the law.
The first offense is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000, the law says. Second or subsequent offenses may be punished by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The text of the law does not say specifically whether the offenses constitute a misdemeanor or a felony. Jewett said her most recent information lists the first offense as a misdemeanor and any subsequent violation as a felony.
Eagles are afforded similar protection by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, an agreement between the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Russia, Jewett said.
Andrea Gates and Bill Ordwing Koehler of Everett were riding their mountain bikes in Japanese Gulch when they spotted the eagle.
At a point where the trail hugs the railroad tracks, they saw the bird on a hillside about 20 feet from the tracks, sitting on the ground.
“I thought someone put a wooden eagle there,” Gates said.
The couple approached the bird and saw that it was real and alive, but did not try to fly away. Koehler saw a trace of blood on the bird’s wing. Using a stick, he partly lifted up the wing and saw more blood on its left side.
“It was all over his tail feathers,” he said.
At first Gates called the Everett Animal Shelter. She knew the shelter didn’t handle wild animals, but “it was a place I knew a name of,” she said.
The animal shelter gave her numbers for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, PAWS and the Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in Arlington, which rescues and rehabilitates wild animals.
She eventually called PAWS because it was the closest shelter, Gates said. The organization sent two staff members to investigate.
Jamie Thomas and Katelynn Overton, assistant wildlife rehabilitators for PAWS, arrived within the hour and drove its covered pickup up the dirt-and-gravel road to the location.
They found the eagle lying on the ground motionless.
“There’s no heartbeat,” Thomas said at the scene.
She and Overton wrapped the dead bird in a blanket and placed it in a cage in the back of the truck.
Its injuries were probably a day or two old, said John Huckabee, the PAWS veterinarian who examined the eagle on Tuesday. It was likely a male, 5 to 15 years old. Eagles normally live to 15 or 20 years old in the wild, he said.
Early spring is mating season for bald eagles and they often fight, Convy said.
“They do get pretty aggressive with each other,” she said. “The talons will get caught in each other and they spin to the ground. Sometimes they can’t disconnect.”
It’s uncertain whether the animal bled to death, died from internal injuries or other complications, Convy said.
She said that while Koehler probably didn’t harm the bird by lifting its wing with the stick, it’s best not to touch an injured eagle in any way.
“It’s best just to keep your distance,” stand by and call for help, she said.
Each case is unique, Convy said. Leslie Henry, clinic director for Sarvey, agreed with Convy’s advice.
“Each time I would suggest that the animal be observed if it needs assistance and call the closest rehabilitation center for additional directions,” she said.
She said if an eagle is not trying to get away from someone who approaches, something’s wrong.
“It’s clearly indicative that the eagle needs attention if you can get within 10 feet of it,” she said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.