Juneau Raptor Center has seen a surge in injured or deceased bald eagles in the last three weeks.
“For the last three weeks, we’ve had eight eagles come in,” said Kathy Benner, general manager of the raptor center. “So far, this year, we’ve had 39. We average about 50 a year.”
Benner doesn’t have an explanation for why so many birds are showing up injured, dead or entangled in fishing line, like one eagle last week. This streak comes on the heels of a very busy June.
“It’s hard to say. Maybe there’s a lot more people out and more people finding them,” Benner said. “There’s a lot that we get in that we never find out what happened. There’s so many reasons they can get sick.”
Eagles are as prone to disease, injury and infection as anything else, Benner said.
“There’s been a bunch that were really thin. We’ve got a couple that were hit by cars,” Benner said. “This is the first fishing line one this year. There was one that was on the ground and couldn’t fly. He died before we could help.”
Fishing line is a major issue for birds that get tangled in it, Benner said. The entangled eagle was in serious jeopardy, Benner said, and was probably only still alive because its parents had been feeding it. The bird was transferred to the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka for advanced care.
“I couldn’t believe how far into the legs the fishing line had cut. So far Sitka sounds hopeful,” Benner said referencing the Alaska Raptor Center. “They’re going to do some surgery and clean up the wounds. They think he’s going to be ok.”
Benner strongly encouraged fishermen to police their fishing line, and for others enjoying nature to keep an eye out for fishing line, hooks, lures or other paraphernalia.
“Once they’re on the ground it goes downhill kinda fast,” Benner said. “Last year we got an eagle that was completely tangled with both wings and it was tied to a low tree. I think often it’s lines getting stuck in trees and people don’t go back and get it. Keep an eye out for it. If you’re a fisherman, be aware that your line could get stuck in a tree.”
Birds that survive but require more help are transferred to the ARC, which can give them time to rehabilitate before being released into the wild. The eagle who was entangled in the fishing line will take their whole winter to regrow its tail, which had become fouled and needs to be remolted to permit the bird to fly, Benner said.
“We take care of everything,” Benner said.. “We’ve had a lot of ravens come in lately. We get Steller’s jays, seabirds, hummingbirds, any kind of bird you can think of.”
The JRC, which relies heavily on donations from tourists largely absent this year, has been having a rough year, though Benner praised her volunteers for taking up the mantle with panache.
“We lost our main source of income,” Benner said. “Thankfully, our volunteers do a lot of great work.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.