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Bald Eagle Rescue in Egg Harbor Township

by Kathleen Clark
Supervising Zoologist
March 7, 2013

Golf course staff start work early in the morning, even in the middle of winter. On February 1, the grounds keepers at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Atlantic County called the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's Hotline (877-WARN-DEP) to report a bald eagle, injured and grounded, on a remote fairway on the Egg Harbor Township club.

The call, received by Kris Schantz of the Division's Endangered and Nongame Species Program, at home, was relayed to me, also still at home. As I headed out to gather the necessary equipment, I called Conservation Officer Doug Ely, who has helped on other eagle rescues. As much as we tried to rush to respond, everything seemed to move slowly: an unexpected snowstorm was quickly laying down 6-8 inches, making travel hazardous in the most southern counties.

After a quick stop at my Tuckahoe office to get an eagle-sized pet carrier and heavy-gauge gloves, I carefully negotiated the roads through Atlantic County. Meanwhile, Lt. Ely had arrived at the golf course and scoped out the eagle's situation. The bird had made a short flight off the fairway into open woods, but then remained grounded. Through binoculars, he could see that something was wrong with the face. A closer look would reveal the right eye was injured.

We met up at the remote section of the course, which was now snow covered. Lt. Ely and I quickly laid out the capture plan with six golf course staff, and were soon joined by Conservation Officers Craig James and Keith Fox. We loosely encircled the downed eagle and Lt. Ely and I slowly approached, prepared with blankets to cover the bird once we got close enough. As we got closer, we could see that the right eye was indeed impaired, so we were able to approach on the bird's blind side.

Once I got within five feet of the eagle, it suddenly jumped up into a short flight to my right, but crashed into branches and fell back to the ground about 50 feet away. I rushed over to it, and after another careful approach, threw the blanket over the bird and secured it there. It took two of us to make sure we had a good hold of the strong wings and legs, and to avoid being bitten as well. With a short walk to the truck with the carrier, we set the eagle into the cage where it sat quietly, perhaps relieved to be in a dark, quiet place.

This eagle was fitted with two leg bands: a color band reading B/47, and a silver band with the individual number 629-45852. These identified her as having been banded in a New Jersey nest in May, 2003, in Mannington, Salem County. She was one of two young eagles from that nest that year, when there were just 35 nests in the state. In contrast, we monitored 121 nesting pairs in 2012, and a record 165 young were produced. It is likely that she has been part of this eagle recovery since 2008 when she would have been five years old and mature to nest. She was found about two miles from a known eagle nest along the Great Egg Harbor River.

Biologist and CO Capture Injured Eagle
Kathy Clark and Doug Ely use a blanket to capture the grounded bald eagle.
Click to enlarge

Conservation Officers drove Eagle B/47 in a relay to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Delaware, that day. The wildlife veterinarians at Tri-State are especially skilled with birds and treat more bald eagles than any center in our region. She was anesthetized for closer examination and x-rays, and her wounds were cleaned and treated.

Her injuries were apparently the result of combat with another eagle, going by the puncture wounds in her face and near her eye. Aerial fights between eagles occur as they compete for nest sites, and it helps assure that only the healthiest and most fit eagles will reproduce. But such competition has been a very rare occurrence in New Jersey, as eagles have expanded into empty habitat. Serious competition among eagles has been seen for years in the Chesapeake Bay region, where the population across Maryland and Virginia has recently surpassed 1,000 pairs. We may see more of these injuries as eagles become more common across New Jersey.

Crated eagle prepared for transport
Conservation Officers Keith Fox and Craig James prepare the crated eagle for transport to Tri-State Bird Rescue.
Click to enlarge
We were surprised to learn that eagle B/47 also had old injuries that had healed, but which had left her mostly blind in her left eye. This means she had been relying on her right eye for flying and hunting. With the new damage to her right eye, she would not have the skills necessary to fly and survive in the wild. The extent of her new injuries led everyone to the decision to euthanize her.

It is a sad ending, but it's also a lesson of the wild: an eagle's life requires all their skills for flight, hunting and successful nesting. We can help them by making sure there is good habitat to meet the needs of each nesting pair and the population as a whole, and assuring they can nest and hunt in undisturbed areas. In those cases where an eagle becomes grounded, sometimes we can be there to help, and sometimes we can only reduce their suffering.

Fortunately, despite a rocky history and minor setbacks, the eagle population in New Jersey is stronger than ever, and continuing to increase each year. (See the annual Eagle Reports for specific information.)

One of the rewards of a healthy, recovered bald eagle population is the chance to see an eagle nearly anywhere in New Jersey. From Sussex to Cape May, bald eagles are calling the state home, and they can be seen along many of our waterways and state lands. Their recovery is a living symbol of the success of the state's Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act, enacted 40 years ago. The Endangered and Nongame Species Program continues work to recover rare wildlife, and keep "common" species common.

Please remember the Endangered and Nongame Species Program as tax season approaches. Check-off for the N.J. Endangered Wildlife Fund on Line 59 of the New Jersey State Income Tax form.

RELATED PAGES

arrow Bald Eagle Information
arrow Bald Eagle Fact Sheet (pdf, 40kb)
arrow Bald Eagle Released to Draw Attention to 40th Anniversary of State's Endangered Species Protection Law - DEP News Release, 3/4/13
   arrowVideo Feature of Eagle Release - Courtesy of NJ.com
arrow Check-off For Wildlife
arrow Conserve Wildlife License Plates
arrow New Jersey's Threatened and Endangered Wildlife
arrow Endangered and Nongame Species Program
arrow Wildlife Rehabilitator Information

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Last Updated: March 7, 2013