Young bald eagle fighting for survival
By ANDREW MCGINN
A bald eagle rescued recently from a leghold trap by two Greene County High School students as temperatures plummeted serves as a reminder to trappers about where and how they place their traps.
The young male eagle was found southwest of Grand Junction on Jan. 5 in a leghold trap set near a deer gut pile.
It’s against state law to set a trap within 20 feet of exposed bait — solely out of concern for raptors, which hunt by sight.
The trapper was cited, according to Kay Neumann, executive director of SOAR, a raptor rehabilitation facility in Carroll County that’s attempting to bring the eagle back from the brink.
“He wasn’t thinking about all the other things in the environment,” Neumann said of the trapper. “A deer gut pile gets eagles into trouble in more ways than one.”
For that reason, SOAR — Saving Our Avian Resources — encourages trappers to stop using visual bait and instead trap using scented bait.
The eagle’s feet had frozen by the time it was found by Sean Kenan and Cody Burkett.
“I’m not certain it’s going to have a happy ending,” Neumann confessed this week.
Dead tissue is continuing to form on one foot, she said.
“An eagle without a toe can get by,” she said. “An eagle without a foot cannot.”
Still, the instincts of Sean and Cody at least gave the eagle a fighting chance.
“He would have died for certain had they not found him that night,” Neumann said.
The teens are no strangers to the elements.
“They’re both very outdoorsy boys. They’re all about this stuff,” said Gail Rueter, Sean’s mom.
It’s also not Sean’s first raptor rescue.
He recently rescued a hawk with a broken wing, Rueter said, after it had been hit by a car.
But when they came across the bald eagle — estimated to be 2 years in age — they ended up calling the Greene County Sheriff’s Office for advice.
“They didn’t even want to touch it,” Rueter said. “They thought they might get in trouble.”
With consent from authorities, the boys removed the eagle from the trap and wrapped it in sweatshirts until SOAR arrived.
“They handled it,” Neumann said. “They did perfect.”
The eagle, which is having to be force-fed, could still lose the foot.
If that happens, it would need to be put down, she said.
“If they don’t have two good feet, they’re not a releasable animal,” Neumann said.
A blood test at SOAR also revealed low-level lead poisoning in the eagle.
It’s unknown where the majority of lead found in eagles comes from, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, but shotgun slugs are a likely culprit.
As a result, the eagle found in Greene County is undergoing therapy, with twice-daily injections, in an attempt to cleanse the blood.
“We’re working against the odds here,” Neumann said.
But, it’s not like bald eagles haven’t overcome incredible odds before.
The national symbol went from the verge of extinction in the 20th century to being removed from the federal endangered/threatened species list in 2007.
That was the same year Greene County reported its first new bald eagle nest in modern history.
Completely eliminated from Iowa by the early 1900s, the state now boasts more than 300 active nests. In addition, at least 2,759 eagles spent last winter in Iowa, according to state tallies.
The bald eagle found here has its whole reproductive life ahead of it, Neumann said.
It could live to be 30.
“It would be incredibly nice to get him back,” she said.