America’s First Bird — the bald eagle — is making headlines across Texas again. The news is sad.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens are looking for tips that will hopefully point them to the person or persons responsible for killing a pair of bald eagles in the eastern part of Nacogdoches County.
Wardens say a private landowner discovered the dead eagles in a field near the intersection of CR 283 and Farm to Market Road 95 between Garrison and Martinsville. The exact date when the birds died is unclear, but it is believed to be sometime around October 28.
“The birds had been there for a couple of days when we got out there — they had already begun to decay,” said game warden Randy Stovall.
Both eagles had been shot and left for dead. The warden said the birds were lying about 15-20 yards apart. Both had pass through bullet wounds — likely the result of being shot with a rifle of some sort.
The penalties for shooting a bald eagle are potentially stiff. Brisk fines and possible jail time could be on the table.
The civil restitution fee alone for killing a bald eagle in Texas is $11,907.50, per bird. Taller restitution fees and fines could come down the pike if federal authorities get involved.
Even though bald eagles are no longer listed under the Endangered Species Act, they are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act — federal laws that have been around for decades. It is illegal to possess something as minuscule as a feather from an eagle.
Local Crime Stopper authorities and TPWD’s Operation Game Thief program are offering separate rewards up to $1,000 for the first, most accurate tip that leads to an arrest in the case.
This isn’t the first time a bald eagle has been illegally killed in Texas.
In February 2020, a Bay City farmer was ordered to serve one year of probation and pay more than $11,900 in restitution fees to TPWD after pleading guilty in federal court for killing a bald eagle in March 2018, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Texas.
The release says authorities discovered the dead eagle and several other dead animals near a field southeast of Bay City. They appeared to have been poisoned.
Authorities subsequently encountered a man inspecting his fields. The man admitted to scattering about 30 pounds of poison-laced corn in his fields to kill birds that had been damaging his agricultural crops. Laboratory analysis later confirmed that poisoned corn caused the bald eagle’s death, according to the release.
In a separate incident, Texas Parks and Wildlife in February 2017 released a report about a 17-year-old teenager who was arrested and charged for killing a bald eagle in Harris County near White Oak Bayou.
The report indicates the bird was shot several times with a high-powered air rifle while in its nest in a tree. Authorities said they believed the eagle was one of a pair that had actively nested in the area for several years.
Adding to the senseless crime is the fact the eagle wasn’t alone in the nest when it was shot. According to TPWD’s report, the dead eagle’s partner returned to the nest after the shooting.
Thinking there might be fledglings in the nest, a team of foresters was enlisted to climb the tree and bring any eaglets to safety. The report says foresters rescued one 5- to 6-week-old eaglet from the nest.
Dehydrated and hungry, the young bird was transported to the Wildlife Center of Texas and later to a Texas wildlife rehabilitation center in hopes that it might eventually be released back into the wild.
Not every bald eagle story comes to a sad ending. Steve Oram’s tale certainly didn’t.
I tracked Oram down a few years ago after details of his bizarre encounter with a bald eagle in distress circulated on social media. It’s the classic Good Samaritan story of one fisherman helping another. Here’s the recap:
It was a chilly winter day in February 2017 and Oram was alone in his boat, practicing for a bass tournament at the upper reaches of Sam Rayburn Reservoir in eastern Texas. He was headed up the Angelina River when he spotted what he initially thought was a pelican thrashing the surface around a cypress tree.
“I put the trolling motor down and started fishing in that direction,” Oram said. “Once I got close enough to see it good I told myself, ‘That’s no pelican. It’s a bald eagle!’”
Closer inspection told Oram the bird was in trouble, too. One of its legs and tail feathers were tangled in a limb line set tethered to a cypress limb. Limb lines are single hook devices intended to catch catfish.
“When I eased up to him it was pretty obvious he was worn out, water-logged and mad,” Oram said. “He was just sitting there using his wings to hold himself up. I could tell by the look in his eye he wasn’t happy.”
A retired firefighter from Longview, Oram’s life-saving skills kicked in. With no cell phone service to call for help, he grabbed the line behind the eagle’s feet and turned the bird upside down. That’s when he discovered a two-pound catfish on the hook below the bird.
“That catfish is what got it into trouble,” Oram said. “It was tugging on the line the whole time.”
Oram eventually managed to free the bird. Surprisingly, it didn’t attempt to make a hasty getaway.
“It made one lunge with its wings and latched onto my trolling motor shaft with its beak,” Oram said. “I stepped to the back of the boat and he never took his eyes off me. He sat there hanging on for about five minutes, just resting.”
Oram said the eagle eventually released the trolling motor and began propelling itself across the surface with a fluid breast stroke until it reached the nearby shoreline.
“It was really cool to watch him swim,” he said. “Those birds are huge. It had a six-foot-plus wing span and its talons were longer than my fingers. You definitely don’t want to tangle with one of those dudes.”
It’s hard to imagine somebody shooting such a majestic bird for the heck of it.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo..com.
In the know
Eagles in Texas: They are present year-round throughout Texas as spring and fall migrants, breeders or winter residents. The Texas population is divided into breeding birds and wintering birds. Breeding populations occur primarily in the eastern half of the state and along coastal counties from Rockport to Houston. Wintering populations are located primarily in the Panhandle, Central and East Texas, and in other areas of suitable habitat throughout the state.
Physical traits: Males are usually about three feet from head to tail, weigh seven to 10 pounds, and have a wingspan of six to seven feet. Females are larger, some reaching 14 pounds with a wingspan of up eight feet. Adults have a white head, neck, and tail and a large yellow bill.
What they eat: Bald eagles are opportunistic birds of prey. They feed primarily on fish but also eat waterfowl and other birds, small mammals and turtles when available. Eagles catch fish by extending their talons a few inches below the water’s surface; live fish are vulnerable only when near the surface or in shallows. Texas studies have shown that eagles commonly eat coots, catfish, rough fish and soft-shell turtles.
When they breed: Bald eagles are sexually mature at four to six years old, but have been known to successfully breed at three. They are monogamous and are believed to mate for life. If one of the pair dies, the surviving bird will accept another mate. Wild birds may live 20 or more years.
Nesting facts: In Texas, nesting occurs from October to July. Peak egg-laying occurs in December, with hatching primarily in January. The female lays a clutch of one to three eggs with incubation lasting 34-36 days. Eaglets usually fly in 11-12 weeks, but the adults continue to feed them for another four to six weeks while they learn to hunt. Once independent, young bald eagles migrate northward out of Texas, returning by September or October. Bald eagle nests are built primarily by the female, usually from large sticks with leaves, grass and Spanish moss used as nest lining. Nests are typically used for a number of years, with the birds adding nest material every year. A nest may be six-feet wide and weigh hundreds of pounds. Eagles can have one or more alternative nests within their territories.
Original Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/other-sports/2023/01/06/game-wardens-looking-for-tips-after-pair-of-bald-eagles-killed-in-nacogdoches-county/