As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigates a bald eagle that was shot in Juneau before Christmas and later had to be euthanized, the manager of the Juneau Raptor Center talks about another famous eagle that was shot.
“Years ago we had an eagle shot in Wrangell. Every time it happens it gets investigated,” said Juneau Raptor Center manager Kathy Benner in an interview. “Lady Baltimore is the perfect example of an eagle that got shot.”
Bald eagles are federally protected animals, and killing one comes with severe penalties — up to $250,000 and five years in prison for a felony conviction, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We see things like birds getting hit by cars,” Benner said. “When I found out the bird was shot, I was shocked.”
There’s been fewer than 10 bald eagles brought to the JRC with gunshot wounds in her over two decades with the center, Benner said. Whenever a bald eagle turns up with a gunshot wound, poisoning or certain other kinds of injuries, the raptor center contacts FWS, who investigate the incident, Benner said. FWS is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the shooter.
“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” Benner said. “I’m sure it happens more than what we see, because we only see it when it comes in.”
For the eagle rescued near Montana Creek Road on Dec. 22, its rescuers weren’t even aware it was such a case until the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka X-rayed the bird, and passed word that it had been shot, Benner said. The bird, whose pelvis was shattered and had mounting lead poisoning from the lead shot (shotgun ammunition) that is illegal in Alaska, had to be euthanized, Benner said.
“There’s all these things that come into play with birds, what they can and can’t live with it,” Benner said. “This eagle did have significantly elevated lead levels. It was lead shot. The lead will leach into them and it’s just a slow horrible death for the wildlife.”
Shooting survivor and educational example
Lady Baltimore was another such bird, but her story has a happier ending. Found in Douglas in 2006 and rescued by the JRC, she had taken a round damaging her beak and wing.
“Apparently she was shot in the beak and the rest of the right wing. I think it was a bullet as opposed to shot, but she had been out in the wild for two weeks after she had been shot,” Benner said. “She was shot in the wing, so she couldn’t fly. The impact of the bullet also caused a detached retina in her left eye.”
She was named by a volunteer for reasons lost to the fog of time, Benner said.
“The name was strictly because one of our volunteers from the East Coast named her that,” Benner said. “She was named Lord Baltimore. When they found out she was a lady, they changed it to Lady Baltimore.”
Now, at least 21 years old, Lady Baltimore lives comfortably as an educational bird for the raptor center, allowing people who might never have had the chance to see a bald eagle up close the opportunity.
“She lived with me last year. She’s very vocal, Lady Baltimore. She’s got a great personality,” Benner said. “She’s gotten comfortable with being around humans. She’s still a wild bird, not a pet. But she’s gotten used to tolerating humans.”
Benner said it’s upsetting that the eagle was shot, but that most people in Juneau are better than that.
“It’s just sad. There’s people like that,” Benner said. “But I can tell from the response we get from the community of Juneau that most people aren’t like that. They get very angry when things like this happen.”