Chain wrapped around Bonneauville eagle, expert says

Liz Evans Scolforo

BONNEAUVILLE — A female bald eagle that's nesting in Bonneauville, Adams County, is tangled in a leg-hold trap and is not the eagle freed from a similar trap last week at Fort Indiantown Gap, according to local eagle expert Karen Lippy.

Lippy — who monitors the eagle nest at Codorus State Park for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and who has authored books about the Codorus eagles — said she went to the area of the Bonneauville nest with her spotting scope on Saturday morning and could see that the trap's chain is now tangled around the eagle's body and is no longer simply dangling from her foot.

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)

Lippy told The York Dispatch she repeatedly notified the game commission that the Bonneauville eagle still needs help but was repeatedly told she was mistaken. She's had volunteers taking photos of the bird to try to get a shot where the trap's chain and wire are visible as more than a glint in the sun, but getting clear photos is difficult because they can't get anywhere near the nest and because wildlife is notorious for not cooperating with photographers.

Lippy urged eagle enthusiasts on Facebook to message the game commission in an effort to pressure them into taking action, she said.

"Everybody (on Facebook) is saying I'm an angel," Lippy said. "I'm not an angel. I'm a damned cranky old lady, and I'm so frustrated over this whole thing."

Lippy said she simply wants to get back to watching the Hanover-area eagles nesting near Codorus State Park and also to helping visitors view the eagles.

"This is stressful," Lippy said Monday afternoon as she steadied her spotting scope from gusting winds and kept an eye on the female eagle in the Bonneauville nest. She said that's because the future is uncertain for the eagle and her nest.

Tangled? Initially, the trap and its chain simply dangled from the eagle's foot, which could clearly be seen in photos taken by Susan Boardman, who serves as that nest's monitor for the game commission, according to Lippy.

But then the chain somehow became wrapped around the raptor's tail and has inched upward and has become tighter and tighter, according to Lippy. The chain is now damaging some of the eagle's wing feathers and seems to be restricting her movement, Lippy said.

"The bird is definitely in trouble and needs help," she said. "But this is not going to be easy."

Was Bonneauville eagle the Lebanon bird freed from trap?

Lippy said she now believes the lack of response from the game commission was because they were unclear that she was trying to tell them the trap was wrapped around the eagle's body. An eagle-watcher reported last week the trap was no longer dangling on the eagle's foot, so everyone involved assumed the Bonneauville eagle was free of the trap, she said.

Wildlife Conservation Officer Darren David went to the Bonneauville site on Monday to check out Lippy's reports, according to Travis Lau, press secretary for the game commission.

"When Darren went out there ... the birds were perched, and one of the birds flew," Lau said. "He could see when one of the birds took off that it had something dangling from it."

But gusting winds made it difficult to stay focused on the bird, according to Lau, who said David then spoke with Lippy.

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)

"After talking to Karen, he said (what he saw) is consistent with what she's reporting," Lau said. "He definitely saw something dangling, then saw nothing dangling (a moment later). ... He's not sure what he saw."

Returning Tuesday: Lau said both David and fellow WCO Cory Ammerman will continue to monitor the situation. Specifically, at least one of them will go back to the site Tuesday.

"Hopefully tomorrow when conditions are better, we can get a better look," Lau said, and perhaps try to get photos with a better camera lens or even a drone. "For today, we don't have an answer."

Lau said the game commission has not abandoned its position that the Bonneauville eagle flew to Fort Indiantown Gap and, on Wednesday and had a very similar trap removed from its leg before it flew off.

"We believed that was the same bird. It seems to us a likely conclusion — still," he said. "Whether it's the correct one? We'll see."

This bald eagle's foot is stuck in a leg-hold trap. He was seen on Feb. 5, 2017, flying with the trap on his talons.
(Photo courtesy of Susan Boardman)

Game commission officials said last week that the traps on the Bonneauville and Fort Indiantown Gap eagles were identical and were on the same-side foot. Lau said that evidence "does blend well" with the game commission's conclusion last week that the Bonneauville eagle flew to the Army installation.

"We don't know what to think at this point," Lau said. "It could be anything wrapped around that (Bonneauville) eagle."

What can be done? If the WCOs confirm the female eagle has a trap chain — or any sort of debris — wrapped around her body, the next issue becomes deciding what to do about it, according to Lau.

"Even without incubation occurring, it's a sensitive situation in that whatever you do to step in and help could have a countereffect," he said.

Capturing and rehabilitating the bird could end the eagle's chance of fledging offspring this year, Lau acknowledged, but doing nothing might endanger the female eagle.

Injured eagle cleared for takeoff to Tennessee

He said there might not be a clear-cut answer, which is why wildlife conservation officers need to observe the eagle again Tuesday, to gather as much information as they can before a decision is made.

The Gap eagle: On Wednesday, an eagle with a trap on its foot was spotted tangled in a tree at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County.

Members of the Gap's wildlife program division used a bucket truck to reach the eagle, at which point they opened the trap and the eagle flew off, game commission officials have said.

It is illegal to put out leg-hold traps in which the bait is visible from the air — a law specifically designed to protect raptors, Lau has said.

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

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