ALEXANDRIA — The injured American bald eagle rescued the backyard of an Alexandria Township home on Thursday was shot and suffered a broken leg from a pellet still lodged in the bird.
Watch an injured bald eagle get tube hydrated An an injured American bald eagle was brought to the Raptor Trust in Millington for medical attention. The bird was recovered in Alexandria with a damaged leg. (Video by Andre Malok | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
“We took an X-ray of the leg and saw the pellet,” The Raptor Trust Director Chris Soucy said Friday. “You can see the pieces of the pellet, shrapnel really, where it shattered the bone.”
Soucy said the pellet appears “bigger than bird shot. It’s much larger than a BB.”
The injury is recent, he said.
“The bird was still bleeding when it came in,” Soucy said. “(The eagle) showed up in the resident’s yard on Monday afternoon, and we suspect it was shot earlier that day, or the day before.”
Shooting a bald eagle “is a violation of I can’t even tell you how many laws,” Soucy said. “It’s an endangered species in this state, and it’s the national symbol.”
Medical staff with The Raptor Trust worry that the eagle suffered more than just the broken leg.
“It also has a little bit of blood in its mouth, so it may have been peppered with pellets,” Soucy said. They won’t know the full extent of the bird’s injuries until they can do full-body X-rays, and since they have to be done under anesthesia, those will have to wait a few days.
“Now we’re giving the bird some fluids — it must have gotten very dehydrated in that tree for four days — and some nutrients,” Soucy said. The bird is being kept quiet, in a darkened area, so it can stabilize and be in better shape for the surgery, tentatively set for Sunday.
Residents in Alexandria first saw the bald eagle on Monday and alerted homeowner Courtney Heath to the bird stationed in her backyard tree, Heath told CBS3 in Philadelphia.
The residents soon realized the bird had an injured leg and had not moved from the backyard. They alerted the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, which also brought The Raptor Trust and Avian Wildlife Center to assist in the capture effort.
An injured American bald eagle awaits surgery on a broken leg after it was successfully rescued from a backyard in Hunterdon County
“I was out there in Pittstown for three days trying to catch the bird,” Soucy said.
Giselle Smisko, director of the Avian Wildlife Center in Wantage, and volunteer Katie Besbris were finally able to cover the eagle with blankets after crows had dive-bombed it, forcing it closer to the ground.
The eagle is a sub-adult between 3 and 4 years old, Soucy said.
“Eagles don’t fully mature and get the classic white head and tail for five to six years,” he said. “This one has a mostly white head and tail, with some streaks still showing.”
The leg X-ray taken at The Raptor Trust is being sent to Kathy Clark, head of Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Non-Game Species Program, so team members can determine the type of pellet that injured the eagle.
“I’m sure there will be a call put out for any information,” Soucy said. “The hotline, for Operation Game Thief, is 1-855-OGT-TIPS.”
Soucy said one bit of good news for the eagle is that the fractured leg bone broke in the middle of the shaft.
“A mid-shaft break is generally easier to repair,” he said, and offers a better opportunity for recovery.
That blood in the mouth is worrisome, though. For now, allowing the bird to rest and recuperate is paramount.
“We’ve got the bird here, and we’re doing our best to treat it,” Soucy said.