It’s the time of year when an increase in deer activity leads to more road-killed deer that attract animals, such as eagles, to a free meal along roadways. This is also the time of year when Minnesota Department of Natural Resources nongame wildlife staff and area wildlife managers receive many calls about injured or dead eagles on Minnesota roads.
Why do eagles get hit by vehicles? After all, people rarely see a crow injured or dead along the roadway. Crows simply fly off.
Just as an overloaded plane can’t take off, eagles can “over eat” and become too heavy to fly until they digest their meal. Eagles can also suffer from neurological issues if they are exposed to lead in the carcass of the animal they are eating. When this happens, eagles become disoriented and do not know to fly off when a car is approaching.
“When deer are particularly active, we tend to get calls about eagles that are injured or killed by vehicles or sick and dying from lead poisoning,” said Christine Herwig, DNR northwest region nongame specialist. “If you see a dead deer on the road and can safely move the deer off the roadway, this improves the safety of other motorists and wildlife.”
People who encounter a dead eagle, can leave it alone or bring it to the nearest DNR office; it’s a good idea to call ahead to be sure they have a freezer. Eagles are sent to a national feather repository where the feathers and other eagle parts are cleaned and distributed to Native American reservations for use in ceremonies.
“You may not keep a dead eagle, but by law you are allowed to transport a dead eagle to a state or federal wildlife agency office.” Herwig said. “In 1940, Congress enacted the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which makes possession of an eagle or an eagle feather a federal crime punishable by a $10,000 fine and a year in prison.”
For people who encounter an injured eagle, Herwig recommends either contacting a permitted wildlife rehabilitator or letting nature take its course. Some eagles can survive their injuries and be transported to a rehabilitator like the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, which rehabilitates more than 800 sick and injured hawks, eagles, falcons and owls a year. Again, there are exceptions to federal laws, including an allowance for those attempting to bring wounded birds to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator. Citizens may not rehabilitate wildlife without a permit.
Before transporting an eagle to the Raptor Center, DNR office or wildlife rehabilitator, Herwig recommends to first contact the local DNR office or rehabilitator. Transporting any injured animal, particularly a raptor, can be challenging and even dangerous. Thick leather gloves should be worn and a blanket (without loops) could be put over the head of the animal to calm it down. Be sure the animal is contained in a secure and appropriately sized pet carrier or box. Do not feed or water the animal, and bring the animal to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Being near humans and around unfamiliar, loud noises is stressful to wildlife, especially when they are injured. When transporting any wild animal in a vehicle, passengers should remain quiet, leave the radio off and leave the animal alone.
People can help support Minnesota’s Nongame Wildlife Program by making a tax-deductible donation using the Nongame Wildlife checkoff this tax season.
For more information on bald eagles and the Nongame Wildlife Program, go the nongame page.