Beheaded Bald Eagle Traced Back to National Eagle Morgue


Photo credit: nojhan via Flickr/CC BY-SA

In one of the stranger summer sagas (in a summer where there were many) a hiker who discovered a decapitated bald eagle in Colorado set off a series of events that led to a bounty placed on information leading to the mutilator's capture, a look into the black market eagle trade, and an introduction to a little known place called the National Eagle Repository--essentially the United States' eagle morgue. Here's what happened.From Big Green Boulder:

In June, a hiker discovered a beheaded bald eagle corpse ... in Boulder. The gory find spurred countywide concern and even a $2,500 Humane Society reward for tips on the source of the mutilated eagle. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the eagle mutilation was part of a growing trend fueled by the black market value of eagle feathers and talons
The incident shed light on the incredible sums netted by such black market eagle trading--a single golden or bald eagle carcass is worth $1,500 or so, individual tail feathers around $100, and a whole tail fan is worth at least $500. As intrigue continued to grow, the Department of Wildlife received an anonymous tip that the eagle had been beheaded, legally, in a Native American religious ceremony. The Native Americans were afraid their rituals would be portrayed unfairly, and held a press conference to educate the public about their practices.

But then, the question remained--if the bird was obtained and used in a ritual, then where did it come from? Why, the National Eagle Repository, of course. From BGG:

The National Eagle Repository is the home for all recovered dead bald and golden eagles in the U.S., but not a lot of folks -- no, not even eagle enthusiast and former Attorney General John Ashcroft -- had ever heard of it before this summer.
The Eagle Repository is in the business of fielding requests for eagles and eagle parts and shipping them to Native Americans across the country. Since it's against the law to kill, maim, sell, or trade bald or golden eagles--even for Native Americans, the penalty for violating such laws is up to $100,000 and a year in prison--they have to submit a request to the repository and wait for an order to be filled. The repository, of course, is where dead eagles are collected and stored until they're shipped out.

The Denver Post did a fascinating report on the National Eagle Repository, and revealed that the place has a thriving business: it ships 30 dead eagles a weak, and 100-150 shipments of loose feathers. And they cater the orders to the requesters' demands--some want only feathers or talons, some want the wings, and some wait until a bird in perfect condition is available. For more information on the ceremony, read the account of the whole affair over at Native Biz.

So there you have it: the United States has a national eagle morgue. Who knew?

More on the Bald Eagle
The Bald Eagle is Back in the Black
Turning Away From The Eagle's Shadow

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species | United States