Poaching case: Tastes a little like bald eagle!
I’ve covered a lot of bald eagle poaching cases during nearly 25 years of outdoor reporting, but never one like the case the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shared this morning. The agency announced it’s seeking information regarding a dead bald eagle recently found on Minnesota Department of Transportation property in Freeborn County, just south of Albert Lea, Minn.
The bizarre twist in this case: The eagle was found in a plastic bag, breasted out, with its talons and a portion of one leg missing.
Bird hunters know the phrase “breasted out” implies the perp removed the largest muscles on the bird to eat. Waterfowlers and upland bird hunters will remove the breasts from ducks and pheasants instead of roasting the whole, cleaned bird.
That’s right, it appears we have an eagle poacher who killed our highly protected national symbol… for dinner! Sure, I’ve chided my birdwatching friends a time or two with the phrase “tastes a little like bald eagle” when watching pelicans or pileated woodpeckers fly past, but this southern Minnesota idiot has taken the phrase to heart.
The USFWS says evidence has been gathered from the scene and a criminal investigation is currently under way. The agency is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information that leads to the conviction of any responsible party.
I called Tina Shaw, USFWS public information officer in the Twin Cities, for more details, and she acknowledged this case is “really, really different,” which is why her agency is reaching out to the public for assistance. She said the eagle was discovered by a Minnesota Department of Transportation employee on March 20.
“Sadly, I can’t go into much more detail on this case, but we’re hoping someone out there has seen or heard something about this and can help,” she said.
Typically when I hear about eagle poaching, I think feathers. There’s a nasty little black market out there in bird feathers, especially eagle feathers, but Shaw confirmed the tail feathers on this bird were intact.
“This doesn’t appear to be about eagle feathers,” Shaw said.
Conservation officers from the Minnesota DNR are assisting in the investigation, according to the USFWS release.
Killing eagles for any reason is dumb, but especially so in a society with cheap food. All birds (rightfully) receive strong protection from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and on top of that, the bald eagle is protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The killing or possession of a bald eagle or its parts is a violation of both Acts, punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000.
I lived on ramen noodles in college, and $100,000 can buy a lot of them. Hell, $100K will buy you a lot of steak dinners.
And I can’t imagine, given what they eat, that bald eagles taste very good. Fish-eating ducks like mergansers rank very low on waterfowlers’ list of tablefare. Shaw, who worked in Alaska for years, backed up that point.
“It’s like eating fish bears versus berry bears,” she said. “Always avoid the fish bears.”
Yeah, there are some tongue-in-cheek opportunities with this story… “How do you like your eagle?” but let’s focus on busting the jerk(s) responsible for this case. If you have any information relating to this incident, please contact U.S. Fish and Service Office of Law Enforcement at 651-778-8360 or the Turn in Poachers (TIP) line at (800) 652-9093.
Click here for more about the protected status of bald eagles.