Officials seek public help in fatal Weld County shooting of bald eagle |

Officials seek public help in fatal Weld County shooting of bald eagle

Terry Frei / The Greeley Tribune
A bald eagle passes above the Colorado River along U.S. 40 between Parshall and Kremmling in February.
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

On the night of May 9, a landowner in central Weld County spotted a bald eagle perched on the ground in a pasture about 60 yards from his home.

The next morning, he discovered that the eagle was dead on the same spot, about one mile east of Milton Reservoir.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking for the public’s help in investigating the incident.

CPW reported a May 15 necropsy on the carcass at the organization’s health lab determined the eagle had been shot across the lower abdomen and suffered a broken tibia, a liver fracture and the pooling of blood in its abdomen.

The eagle likely didn’t die immediately, the CPW said, adding that internal hemorrhages and other damage led to death within 24 to 48 hours of the eagle being shot. A bullet and the eagle’s carcass have been retained as evidence.

Anyone who might be able to contribute information is asked to call the CPW’s Fort Collins Service Center at (970) 472-4300 or the Operation Game Thief Hotline at (877) 265-6648.

The bald eagle is protected under both federal and state statute. Under the more strict state law, willful destruction of a bald eagle is a class 5 felony and the fine is $1,000 to $100,000, or a prison sentence of one to three years — or both.

Mike Tincher, the rehabilitation coordinator of the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program in Fort Collins, said incidents like this are common.

“It’s frustrating, but the shooting of raptors is something we deal with,” he said. “This happens with unfortunate regularity.”

Carin Avila, the center’s executive director, estimated less than 5 percent of the 300 birds it takes in on an annual basis suffer from gunshot wounds. The actual number could be higher, Tincher said, because when birds come in, the center’s first priority is performing triage on them. It’s not until much later in the rehabilitation process that the center can determine whether or not the bird had been shot. Sometimes, it only can be determined via a necropsy.

He also said enforcing the state law can be difficult.

“Without that smoking gun, these cases are hard to prosecute,” he said. “It’s maddening because there are things we can’t doing anything about.”

 — Tribune reporter Sara Knuth contributed to this story. The Greeley Tribune is a sister publication of Sky-Hi News.

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