The golden eagle was severely injured when it was found along the side of a road in Pittsburg, California, earlier this month.
Two bones in the bird’s right wing were shattered, leaving the bird scarcely able to move.
After a member of the public spotted the bird in a relatively remote area, local animal control took the eagle to Walnut Creek’s Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital. That’s where veterinarians at first suspected a car had struck the wounded animal.
But X-rays revealed something “even worse,” according to the hospital: The eagle had been shot with a pellet gun, and the pellet was stuck in the eagle’s body.
“It would almost have to be on purpose. You normally don’t accidentally shoot a golden eagle,” Aireo Shipman, wildlife rehabilitation manager at the hospital, said in a phone interview with McClatchy. “Someone actually picked up a gun, pointed it at an eagle and shot it. I can’t fathom who would want to do that.”
The hospital performed surgery to fix the animal’s wing, and a biologist and golden eagle expert helped the hospital guess that the injured female bird was at least 6 years old. She weighed 6.5 pounds, the hospital said.
California’s Department of Fish & Wildlife is looking into the eagle shooting, according to the hospital.
Wildlife officials believe the eagle’s injuries would have prevented it from straying far from the place where it had been shot, the hospital said.
“When birds are shot, unlike mammals, they tend to stay in one spot,” Shipman said. “So it was shot in that area.”
Anyone who witnessed suspicious activity that may be related to the Pittsburg incident that occurred around Aug. 21 should call 1 (888) 334-CALTIP — a 24-hour, confidential and toll-free hotline that “encourages the public to provide Fish and Wildlife with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters,” according to the hospital.
Lindsay Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Allison Daugherty said in a statement that, even after the surgery, the wing injury remains serious. The eagle will require more treatment, medicine and testing.
“It may be weeks or even months before we know for sure if she will be able to fly well enough to survive in the wild,” Daugherty said in a statement.
Both breeds of eagle found in the United States — golden eagles and bald eagles — are protected by federal law, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Shipman said the hospital only handles about six or so eagles a year. But this situation is out of the ordinary.
“It’s very rare that we get a shot eagle,” Shipman said.