AWENDAW — It’s not how you want to see an old friend. The bald eagle was carried into the Center for Birds of Prey earlier this week, sick and lethargic, just out of it. An old pellet wound showed in his chest, but a lot more than that was wrong.
The first thing the staff realized was the banded bird had been there before. In 2008, the eagle hadn’t fledged yet when it fell from a nest at the Yawkey Wildlife Center near Georgetown. Taken to the center, it was rehabilitated then set back in the nest by a S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
Now 7 years old, it was found in a back yard in Beaufort, according to The Island Packet. At the center, staff veterinarians discovered it had a bone stuck in its intestines, said Jim Elliott, center director.
The pellet evidently was fired from a BB gun, which would make the bird another in a long line of the majestic birds shot by mistake, for spite or fun, that are brought with their wounds to the center.
But this eagle’s wound was old enough that the skin had healed over, and the pellet was left in place rather than damage the chest muscle. Veterinarians Joe Biascoechea and Katie Rainwater performed an endoscopy to remove the bone.
The eagle, the national symbol, is one of the most impressive creatures in the wild, with a wingspan as wide as 8 feet and glaring eyes so sharp that if you had them, you could read a newspaper headline a mile away. Individual eagles tend to be fiery and feisty, and the species opportunistic enough that birds often haunt landfills and roadkills — as other birds back away.
When eagles were placed on the Endangered Species list 40 years ago, six of every 10 birds found dead had been shot and the species so depleted it was all but extinct in the lower 48 states. The recovery has been as remarkable as the bird itself. More than 200 nesting pairs are now found in South Carolina alone.
It was removed from the endangered list in 2007.
But the birds still are shot, often enough that the number of injured birds brought to the Center for Birds of Prey tends to spike in the fall when yearlings and migrating species move and hunting seasons crank up. Shot eagles turn up “more often than we would prefer,” said Debbie Mauney, medical clinic director. “It’s not uncommon, sadly.”
For this eagle, it’s not known yet whether or how much the bone damaged internal organs, said Debbie Mauney, medical clinic director. The eagle also was loaded with parasites, so recovery will be an uphill battle.
“At this point it’s fingers crossed for a third chance for this bird” after the nest fall and shooting, Mauney said. “But eagles are strong animals. They pull through things that I would never imagine.”