Benjamin Montgomery and Kathy Malok, two staff members at the Raptor Trust, rescue an injured bald eagle on Dec. 17 from a reservoir in Millburn.
December 21, 2009, 6:01PM
MILLBURN — An eagle was found fighting for its life here last week after ingesting large amounts of lead.
The juvenile bald eagle was rescued from a Short Hills reservoir on the property of New Jersey American Water.
A maintenance worker discovered the female eagle on Dec. 17 in a tall grass embankment between two company reservoirs. The eagle eventually wandered into ice-cold water in a marshy area nearby, and due to heavy winds and neurological damage from the lead it had consumed, it could not fly away.
“At one point, it tried to get out of the water and flapped its wings, but it only got six inches from the surface before falling,” said Gary Matthews, environmental manager at New Jersey American Water, who was the first to identify the injured bird as a bald eagle. “We needed to rescue it before it drowned in one of the reservoirs.”
Matthews called Raptor Trust, a Millington-based bird sanctuary, to rescue and rehabilitate the bird. Cathy Malok, one of two Raptor Trust staff members who rescued the bird using a kayak, said it will take at least two weeks to recover.
Often, Malok said, eagles contract lead poisoning after eating deer carcasses that have been loaded with buckshot and left to rot.
“She seems to be in good shape because we caught her in time,” Malok said.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s 2009 Eagle Project report documented 69 egg-laying eagle pairs last year, an increase by 49 since the 1980’s. The report said that eagles were almost annihilated in the 1970’s due to DDT pesticide use in the area, but the population began to increase steadily after the harsh chemical was banned from widespread use and the state kept a tighter watch on eagle nests.
The majority of the eagles’ nests are located in Cumberland and Salem Counties in the southwest part of the state. No eagles were spotted in Essex County according to the report.
Malok said that, while at the reservoir last week, she spotted a second adult eagle. Matthews said that, in the last eight or nine years, he has seen several eagles near the reservoir, which is a protected wetlands area with plenty of game.
“We’ve been fortunate in that our whole reservoir property has been a great habitat for migratory water fowl,” Matthews said. “Over the years, the eagle sightings have become more numerous.”
Malok said the effort last week marked Raptor Trust’s first Essex County eagle rescue. The eagle is being treated with medicine and exercise at the Millington site. If it recovers, the eagle will be brought back to the New Jersey American Water reservoir and released.
“We’re hoping to get her clean, eating well and stabilized,” Malok said. “We don’t want to just let her go and hope for the best.”