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A bald eagle rests in Muncy during recent storm

By Staff | Mar 24, 2011

A bald eagle was spotted last week in Moreland Township, Muncy along the creek during flooding storm waters. This photo was taken when the eagle was rescued. The man holding the eagle is Mike Kuriga. He is a falconer and trained in handling birds of prey.

MUNCY – It wasn’t by accident that a Bald Eagle was discovered resting among the trees close to a road in Moreland Township. Wayne and Doris Wagner were traveling home last Tuesday during the flooding storm when they spotted a bald eagle sitting among branches on West Arch Rider Road around 12:30 p.m. Doris observed that the eagle appeared injured or sick as it moved slowly along the flooding creek waters. They contacted the local Game Commission who arrived a few hours later, but by then the eagle was gone.

However, it was also seen by Sonny Brown and Becky Hibschman who live nearby. When the Game Commission questioned its whereabouts and the authenticity of actually seeing the eagle, Hibschman decided to contact Mike Kuriga from the PA Fish and Wildlife Association. Kuriga lives in Mosquito Valley and has 35 years of experience handling birds of prey. He has an Eagle education permit from the Wildlife Association, and frequently gets called by the Department of Agriculture to go to Wyoming. In late April they capture Eagles there, band them and remove them from the open prairies where they prey on the sheep. “This way we don’t have to destroy them for attacking the lamb and sheep. We just capture them and remove them from the area,” Kuriga said.

Eagles are no longer an endangered species according to Kuriga so he wasn’t surprised by the recent sighting of this eagle who was nicknamed “Muncy” by the area residents.

“We do not wish to shoot or kill the eagles, but rescue them for rehabilitation,” he said. The Muncy Eagle was trying to swim downstream but appeared to be injured or sick. He couldn’t hold on to the limbs much longer and fell into the running creek waters. Kuriga was able to rescue him when the eagle finally landed onto the creek bank after the he floated downstream for a mile or so. Kuriga safely secured him with the Abba hold which is a straight jacket for birds. He was wrapped in a sweatshirt that a neighbor tossed onto the eagle.

Kuriga took the Muncy Eagle to Robyn Graboski who owns an animal rehabilitation center for injured wildlife in State College. She treated “Muncy” there for about 3 days. It is believed that the bald eagle was suffering from lead poisoning which he easily could have gotten from a pellet or shell casing from another carcass such as a deer. Besides being predatory, eagles are also scavengers, and this can easily happen explained Kuriga. “Just two fragments from lead pellets will cause an eagle to die from lead poisoning,” he said.

Unfortunatley “Muncy” was not able to pull through during his rehab and had to be put to rest late Wednesday afternoon. “He was able to hold his own for about three days,” said Hibschman, “but he was very sick when we found him.” Blood work was sent to a lab to confirm if it was lead poisoning for sure she said.

“We tried,” Hibschman added. “At least we had a wonderful encounter with nature.”

The eagle was supposedly turned over to the Game Commission for a necropsy to determine its cause of death. “All indications do point to lead poisoning,” added Kuriga. “We will see more of these types of problems,” he added, “since eagles are coming back in higher numbers. We might have been able to save “Muncy the eagle” if we had caught him in time before the lead got through his system, which doesn’t take long. There is a game preserve nearby so he could have easily gotten sick from another bird or animal.”

Last summer an eagle was electrocuted near the Muncy/Montgomery bridge. PP&L was notified and they reconfigured the power poles to prevent this from happening in the future. The local wildlife association believes there is an eagle’s nest somewhere in Montoursville amd Doug Gross, an eagle biologist with the PA Game Commission is seeking its location.

Doris Wagner said she spotted a pair of eagles at the Moreland Township location, but hasn’t seen the other eagle since this one was captured. “They mate for life,” Wagner said, “and the other eagle could be out there now looking for her mate.”

Eagle populations are rising and there are 149 known nests in 50 counties across Pennsylvania. There is a designated Eagle Watch Area at Little Pine State Park where they have been nesting since 2004. The nest is in a pine tree directly across the lake according to park officials. Eagles usually return to the same nest each year to raise their chicks, unless the tree is damaged or destroyed. Wagner believes there could be a nest somewhere in Moreland Township.

An educational program about eagles is scheduled for April 16 at Little Pine State Park in Waterville at 12:30 p.m.