MANISTEE, MI – A bald eagle was shot and later died after a waterfowl hunter mistook it for a goose over the weekend.
The 2-year-old eagle was in the care of Wings of Wonder in Empire when it had to be euthanized on Monday, Oct. 7, because of the severity of its injuries, said Wings of Wonder Executive Director Rebecca Lessard. Both its wings were fractured, and it had multiple gun pellet wounds.
The eagle was shot and checked in at Wings of Wonder on Saturday, Oct. 5.
“The hunter said the sun was in his eyes and thought it was a goose,” Lessard said. “He might as well have said it was a flying cat. … She was just cruising the river looking for a meal and got shot. It’s so preventable; she didn’t need to die.”
Being a juvenile, the eagle did not yet have the iconic white head that would have made it more distinct from a goose. Eagles get their white head when they reach sexual maturity at age 5 and usually raise their first clutch at age 6.
Lessard suspects the bird was a female based on its weight and the large size of its feet. White specks on its head suggest its 2 years old, which means it survived at least one winter, she said.
About 75 percent of raptors in Michigan die during their first winter, usually due to starvation, Lessard said. That she survived and was a healthy weight means she was a good hunter.
“Those are more serious cases because she would have been a good breeding bird in the state,” she said.
X-rays showed several fractures and one shattered bone in the eagle’s left wing along with five pellets, Lessard said. There was one broken bone and one pellet in the right wing.
Although the bird of prey, considered an American symbol, is no longer on the endangered species list, it is illegal to shoot them in the United States.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is investigating the case and sent it to a prosecutor for review. A first-time offender can face a fine of up to $5,000 or one year in jail for shooting a bald eagle.
In 30 years of working with raptors and seeing many that were shot, Lessard said this is the first time that the shooter is known. A river guide was in the vicinity when the incident occured, she said. He was pointing out the eagle to his client when it was shot. They watched the hunter walk over to the bird, see that it was alive and then proceed to pick up his decoys, Lessard said. The river guide called authorities who met them at the docks.
The eagle has been tagged and frozen as evidence in the DNR investigation, Lessard said. The X-rays and veterinarian’s notes are also saved for the investigators.
The DNR did not immediately respond to a request for a photo.