Fred Gulden found a dead eagle while cleaning out his patio last Wednesday.
The eagle, big and brown-feathered, lay between his house on the shore of Rush Lake in Stanchfield and his dock, which is rolled up on shore for the winter, parallel to the house’s exterior wall.
The eagle was lying facedown. It had a good-sized hole in its chest.
Gulden says he sees eagles in the trees on his property regularly, but usually they’re alive.
“That’s the thing that’s nice about the place,” he said. “You see a lot of wildlife.”
Gulden intended to dispose of the bird himself at first. He says he went as far as putting its carcass in his trash can. Later he mentioned finding the bird to Vicki Pung, who lives across the street.
Vicki’s husband, Joe Pung, worked for the Chisago County Sheriff’s water patrol for 30 years before retirement.
After working extensively with Department of Natural Resources personnel over the years, Joe Pung knew that bald and golden eagles are protected under federal law. It is illegal to keep, kill or transport eagles, living or dead. The eagles are protected by two laws, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Act.
“You can’t even keep a feather off these things,” Joe Pung said.
Upon examining the bird Gulden found in his yard, Joe Pung thought it might be a golden eagle, quite rare in Minnesota. He said he didn’t believe the eagle’s wound could have been from a gunshot. The hole was too large, and a bullet would have broken the bird’s breast bone.
Joe Pung put the eagle in his trash can to keep it cold until he had time to call the DNR to pick the eagle up the following day.
Protected eagles found dead or confiscated by the DNR end up taking a long journey, all the way to Colorado. The eagles are taken to the National Eagle Repository, located near Denver. Native Americans are then able to acquire eagle feathers or other parts for use in their traditional religious practices. They must have special permits to do so.
Most eagles killed or injured tend to turn up in spring or fall, said Tim Marion, area wildlife supervisor for the DNR. Yearlings (young eagles) sometimes wander into dangerous places and get killed. Eagles are also scavengers; they tend to eat road kill, and sometimes they end up as highway casualties themselves.
The DNR preserves dead eagles and sends them to Colorado in shipments.
“Generally we box up probably two or three eagles (and) ship them out to that repository,” Marion said.
When the DNR gets injured eagles and raptors, they work with the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center to take care of them. No autopsies are performed to attempt to determine cause of death for eagles that turn up deceased, however, which means the cause of the puncture wound in the eagle Gulden found is not known.
“I can’t even guess, to tell you the truth,” Marion said. “The majority of eagles that I pick up have been killed by vehicles.”
In the end, the eagle Gulden found was identified not as a golden eagle, as Pung thought, but an immature bald eagle, one that hadn’t yet developed the distinctive white feathers of the national bird. Marion said this kind of mistake is common.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a golden eagle,” he said.
Gulden, for his part, is a little bit relieved he didn’t find the bird in better condition.
“I’m thinking today, what would I have done if he’d have still been alive?” Gulden said.