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Motorist hits bald eagle with SUV

The injured bald eagle didn't resist Rob Rabasco's gloved hand trying to gather up the bird for possible transport. It died an hour later. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
DNR assistant area wildlife manager Rob Rabasco gently loads the eagle into a cage. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

While the remains of a bald eagle struck by a vehicle on Hubbard County Road 4 Tuesday are shipped to a national feather repository, the DNR is warning that more crashes are inevitable as the eagle population soars.

Motorists should keep their eyes peeled toward the shoulders.

The adult eagle that died on County Road 4 was accidentally struck by a motorist who didn't see the bird hovered over road kill just south of County Road 18.

"We're seeing and finding more dead ones now and more are getting hit by cars," said Bruce Lenning, DNR non-game wildlife technician in Bemidji.

The female driver of the SUV was traumatized.

"There's just more eagles around than there used to be," Lenning added. "Our population is real high."

"It was in the air," DNR assistant area wildlife manager Rob Rabasco said of the accident. "As she approached it, it was not in the air. She didn't see it. She kind of flushed it up and it hit her headlight."

The crash caused fairly major damage to the SUV.

"Adult eagles barely weight five or six pounds so there's not a lot of mass there," Rabasco said. "So you imagine a car going at any speed hitting one. If you don't see any external trauma you know there's plenty of internal problems."

Rabasco was at the scene to pick up the eagle. It briefly engaged him in a standoff, but then acquiesced to his gloved hands picking him up in the roadway ditch and placing him in a large cage.

"I brought him back here and gave him a quick examination, if you will, and I did not see any obvious trauma to wings, legs, neck," Rabasco said.

"However, it was breathing very shallow. The most docile adult eagle I'd ever seen. That's not their nature. When I captured it, it did not take very much effort.

"I suspect internal injuries," he said. "I didn't even have a chance to euthanize it. It expired in the time I... I examined it, I walked back into the building and gosh, it was two to five minutes and it was dead."

Lenning said with deer on the move and more roadkill lining highways and ditches, "we get a lot of eagles that are being hit by cars now.

"Often times I just don't think they see them or they don't expect them to get up and fly on short notice. They're not quite quick enough," he said of startled motorists.

National Eagle Repository

The center was established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recognize the significance eagle feathers have for Native American tribes.

The Bald Eagle Protection Act bans the possession of eagle feathers and other eagle parts without a permit.

The County 4 eagle is headed there.

"From northwest Minnesota I probably ship 20-25 a year out there," Lenning said. "We're seeing and finding more dead ones now and more are getting hit by cars."

Both Rabasco and Lenning said that probably pales in comparison to the number of eagles that die in the forest and are never found.

The repository, referred to by wildlife officers as the "feather bank," is the central collection point for deceased eagles.

Only enrolled members of a federally-recognized tribe can obtain a permit authorizing them to receive or possess eagle feathers for religious purposes, the repository's website states.

"Because of the large demand and the limited supply, applicants can expect to wait about 3½ years for a whole bird order to be filled," the repository states.

"Approximately 95 percent of the orders are for whole eagles. Currently there are over 5,000 people on the waiting list for approximately 1,000 eagles the Repository received each year."

The County 4 eagle is being shipped whole because there was no external sign of trauma.

Out of harm's way

Meanwhile motorists are urged to watch out for road kill.

"One thing people can do is, if they see eagles feeding on a dead deer or a dead carcass along the road, is to pull the thing further away from the road," Lenning suggested.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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