JAMES ISLAND — The osprey flapped on a limb, unable to put weight on one leg because someone had taken a pot shot with a pellet gun. It tried to fly to a light pole but didn’t make it, falling into vines, thrashing.
A day later, the raptor had to be euthanized.
“There was a gunshot pellet right in the (leg) fracture. The pellet shattered the bone. There were bone fragments protruding from the skin,” said Debbie Mauney, medical clinic director for the Awendaw-based Center for Birds of Prey. The injury couldn’t be repaired.
The shooting is the latest in a number of pellet gun incidents normally considered nuisance crimes. But osprey are federally protected as migrating birds. Federal and state wildlife officers are searching for the person or persons responsible.
Christine Hamilton found the osprey on Sunday on the side of a street by her James Island home near Clark Sound, unable to put weight on the injured leg. She had been watching a pair at a huge nest she could see from her home.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said about finding the bird. “We had seen (them) daily, flying back and forth from the nest.”
The osprey flew to a rooftop then flew off following another osprey. Hamilton searched for it on her bicycle and heard it call from a nearby field. It tried to fly to the top of the light pole where a second osprey had perched but couldn’t make it and fell into vines. Hamilton called a volunteer for the center who recovered it.
Since the recovery, Hamilton hasn’t seen either of the pair.
The person or persons responsible could face a fine of $2,000, two years in jail or both, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s illegal to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or egg.
Birds of Prey treats raptors with pellet injuries “more often than I would prefer,” Mauney said. “It’s not rare.”
Pellet guns are a recurring problem for law enforcement. They have become more powerful and lethal enough that a Colorado man killed himself earlier this year when he accidentally shot himself in the chest, according to media reports.
About 30,000 people per year are treated in the hospital for pellet and BB shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; four of every five are children.
“Despite the large number of BB and pellet gun-related injuries treated in hospital (emergency departments) each year, there are no nationally specified safety standards for nonpowder guns,” the CDC report said.
Once school lets out, pellet and BB gun incidents tend to spike, said Maj. Eric Watson, spokesman for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, “shooting at windows, shooting at animals,” he said. “It’s not uncommon.”
Among other recent pellet gun incidents, more than 40 vehicles in the Summerville area had windows shot out or smashed in late May.
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