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Was Bonneauville eagle the Lebanon bird freed from trap?

Liz Evans Scolforo
505-5429/@LizScolforoYD

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials say they're confident a bald eagle spotted with a leg-hold trap on its foot at Fort Indiantown Gap on Wednesday is the same distressed eagle that volunteers and officials have been trying to help in Bonneauville, Adams County.

Sometime early Wednesday afternoon, an eagle was spotted at the Army's Lebanon County installation, according to Bert Einodshofer, information and education supervisor for the game commission's southcentral region.

This bald eagle with a leg-hold trap on its talons was seen flying in the area of Bonneauville, Adams County, on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Susan Boardman)

Members of the Fort Indiantown Gap's wildlife program division located the raptor and swooped into action, he said.

"They utilized a bucket truck to reach the eagle, which was tangled in the tree," Einodshofer said.

The good Samaritans freed the eagle's foot from the trap, he said.

"When the bird was released from the trap, it flew down to the ground, sat for a while, then took off on its own accord," said Einodshofer.

When the Bonneauville eagle was spotted late Wednesday afternoon, it no longer had the trap on its foot, he said.

"I'm pretty confident it's the same eagle," Einodshofer said.

Skeptical: But local eagle expert Karen Lippy of the Hanover area, who's authored books about the nesting eagles near Codorus State Park, disagrees.

"I'm 100 percent sure it's not the same eagle," she said.

Lippy is one of the volunteers who's been monitoring the Bonneauville eagle with the trap on its foot.

She said she watched the eagle and its mate in their nest and witnessed them copulating. She said that's how she figured out the eagle with the attached trap is the female half of the pair, based on how birds mate.

"A mated female in the process of copulating and putting eggs in the nest would never go 65 miles from the nest," Lippy said. "They're not leaving that nest, because another bird could claim it. They have to be there to defend it."

'Anything's possible': State-certified raptor rehabilitator Wendy Ebersole Looker — who was alerted to the Bonneauville eagle about 3:15 p.m. Sunday by the game commission — said she agrees a mated eagle most likely wouldn't venture that far from its nest during breeding season.

She said the bird could have picked off the skin around the trap, causing it to fall off.

However, Looker acknowledged she can't flatly rule out that the Bonneauville eagle flew to Lebanon County, because "anything's possible."

This bald eagle was seen in the area of Bonneauville, Adams County, with a leg-hold trap on its foot.
(Photo courtesy of Susan Boardman)

Lippy said she suspects game-commission officials reached their conclusion before receiving her reports later Thursday afternoon that the Bonneauville eagle had been seen mating in its nest, with the trap chain wrapped around her body.

"I think they assumed it was not part of a nesting pair," she said. She said she looked for the Bonneauville pair of eagles on Thursday but didn't see them.

As of early Thursday afternoon, Einodshofer said he had not been given information that the distressed Bonneauville eagle was part of a mated pair.

He told The York Dispatch he had been sent a photo of the trap on the Indiantown Gap eagle.

"It is a Victor No. 2 trap with the same number of links and the same kind of wire (as the Bonneauville trap)," he said. "It's definitely an old, outdated trap. Most dedicated trappers aren't using that trap anymore."

The Fort Indiantown Gap photo wasn't clear enough for him to see which toe was clamped in the trap, he said, but he noted it was the same-side foot as the Bonneauville eagle.

Bonneauville bald eagle has trap clamped to talons

Taken aback: Einodshofer acknowledged that a flight from the Gettysburg area to Fort Indiantown Gap could be a lengthy one for a distressed eagle.

"I was kind of taken aback myself, and so was our wildlife supervisor," he said.

Lippy and Looker said they're concerned the Bonneauville eagle could succumb to infection without treatment.

Her front center toe, the one caught in the trap, was black and likely dead, according to Lippy; when she was seen on Wednesday afternoon, she had difficulty walking and appeared to be in pain.

Einodshofer said a wildlife conservation officer will continue to monitor the Bonneauville eagle to make sure it's recovering and doesn't require medical intervention. As of Wednesday afternoon, bait carcasses had been put out in the area and trail cameras set up to make it easier to watch the bird, he said.

All three experts confirmed the front center toe is the least necessary toe for a raptor. The two side toes are needed for grabbing, and the back toe is necessary to dispatch live prey, they said.

Trapper 'unskilled': Photos of the leg-hold trap also provided clues about the person who set it, according to Einodshofer.

"In looking at the photographs of the kind of trap used, and its anchoring system, it was not indicative of a skilled, knowledgeable trapper," he said; the trap also didn't appear to have an identification tag on it, which is required by state law.

"We want to get to the bottom of who set this trap," Einodshofer said. "We're most likely looking at a potential violation of some sort. ... There's going to be a lot of explaining to do."

He said the game commission issued roughly 30,000 to 35,000 trapping licenses in 2016, and he said it's not a common occurrence for the game commission to receive reports of raptors in leg-hold traps.

Personnel from Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County used this bucket truck to free an eagle caught in a leg-hold trap. The chain of the trap became tangled in the tree, officials said.
(Photo courtesy of Pa. Game Commission)

When eagles are killed by human folly, it's far more often due to poisoning from lead shot, from ingesting animals that have eaten pesticide or by being electrocuted on power lines, according to Einodshofer.

It's illegal in Pennsylvania to set leg-hold traps in such a way that bait is visible from the air, he said. That is expressly to protect raptors.

How to help: Anyone with information about this incident or any wildlife violation can call the Pennsylvania Game Commission's southcentral dispatch office at 814-643-1831.

To find or support a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator, visit the Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators website at pawr.com. York County has two raptor rehabilitators — Looker in the Hanover area and Yorkana-based Mitzi Eaton.

There are more than 300 nesting pairs of eagles in Pennsylvania, according to Looker.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.