Spirit soars no more: Bald eagle euthanized after being shot in rural Routt County
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Officials believe an American symbol was shot down with a bullet last week in Routt County, and they are trying to find the person responsible.
Steamboat Veterinary Hospital’s Dr. Lee Meyring went to the Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation facility outside of Steamboat Springs on Saturday morning, Dec. 16, to euthanize the bald eagle that was found injured alongside a road two days earlier.
“When I put that eagle down, it was the most significant sadness that I’ve ever experienced,” Meyring said.
Tracy Bye, who runs Born Free, said before the eagle was euthanized, they brought him outside with views of the surrounding mountains.
“He was alert and the wind was blowing in his feathers and everything,” Bye said.
After administering the shot, the bird slowly dropped its head and closed its eyes.
“The wind chimes went off,” Bye said. “A really emotional situation because it didn’t need to be. It was like he was forgiving people even though a person did this to him.”
The bird was found alongside Routt County Road 80 in west Routt County seven miles north of Hayden. A Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer took the bird to Bye, who then had it examined by Meyring.
It was initially believed the eagle might have been hit by a car, but X-rays revealed the full extent of the injuries. One of the eagle’s talons was nearly severed, and there were bullet fragments found in the eagle’s body, Meyring said.
The most humane solution was to deliver pain medication and then euthanize it.
It was the worst case of animal cruelty that Meyring has seen during his 22-year career.
“I would have to say this is right at the top,” Meyring said. “This is certainly one of these because you know this was nothing but malicious intent.”
Before deciding to euthanize it, Bye took care of the male eagle and fed him.
“They are so wise that they know you are trying to help them,” Bye said. “He just knew. He knew something bad was up. Their talons could break your wrist if they wanted to.”
Those who rehabilitate wild animals typically do not name their patients, but Bye called the eagle Spirit.
“They love the back of their head scratched,” Bye said.
Meyring and others do not believe what happened to Spirit was a hunting accident.
“This one really just made you stop and question the path that we are on as Americans,” Meyring said.
Born Free, which depends completely on donations to operate, has received $5,000 from an anonymous Steamboat resident for information that leads to the arrest of the person responsible.
“This money was donated to Born Free just for this eagle and to honor him,” Bye said.
Parks and Wildlife Officer Justin Pollock is investigating the incident, and the eagle will be sent to a lab to collect evidence.
The public is being asked to help find the person who did this.
“Any information would be helpful,” said Pollock, who also does not believe this was a hunting accident.
People with information can contact Routt County Communications at 970-879-1090. People can also contact Colorado’s Operation Game Thief by calling 1-877-265-6648 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. That organization also offers cash rewards.
“It’s not too late to do the right thing,” Pollock said.
Harming a bald eagle is a state and federal crime.
The bird is protected by both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Because the population grew, the bird was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A cluster of mumps cases has infected Arapahoe Basin Ski area employees and people associated with them. The first case of mumps was reported back in April, while the other five cases were confirmed in the last few weeks.