KENAI - Biologists from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge are keeping an eagle-eye out for a possibly injured raptor that has been spotted several times in the Soldotna and Sterling areas with a trap dangling from one talon, and local residents are assisting with their observational efforts.
"I have three different people keeping me up to date on it," said Liz Jozwiak, a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator and a biologist at the refuge.
The bird in question is an adult bald eagle with a small trap - possibly set for mink or muskrat - and chain around one talon.
"People are keeping track of it in the hope we could get a chance to capture it and take a look at that foot," Jozwiak said.
This is more difficult that it sounds, though, partially because the bird is still on the move. The first calls about the bird came in from the Robinson Loop area in early December, but throughout the month and more recently the bird has been spotted by others in the Moose Range Meadows area on the south side of the Kenai River.
Also, even when the bird can be spotted, it is often from a low vantage point.
"When I saw it, it was 60 feet up in a spruce tree," Jozwiak said.
She added that other than the trap on the foot, the raptor otherwise appeared healthy. While still good for the bird, this also complicates getting the trap off its talon.
"There's nothing we can do while it's flying strong," she said. "To capture it, it would have to be coming down to one area somewhat predictably. Then we'd still have to set a ground trap and watch the trap."
Still, Jozwiak said she hopes the situation can be resolved.
"Obviously our concern is for the health of the bird, so if we can catch it, we will," she said. "But sometimes they get these things off on their own, and right now, it looks like only one foot is in the trap, so I'm assuming that it is still getting food somehow, probably by scavenging."
Trappers should be aware that under the Bald Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, if an eagle or other migratory bird - owls, hawks, etc. - are attracted into a trap using sight or exposed baits, and the bird dies, the trapper is liable for federal prosecution.
Violations for these acts, respectively, are punishable by a fine of $5,000 and/or a year in jail or $5,000 and/or six months in jail.
Jozwiak said she has contacted the Kenai Peninsula Trappers Association regarding this incident, and the refuge has several recommendations for trappers to avoid this type of scenario.
Jozwiak said all traps should be fastened securely to a drag log - typically dried spruce 5 feet long by 5 inches in diameter - the chain ring should be secured with a fence staple, then six to eight tight wraps of 14 gauge wire.
The chain should be attached to the drag log approximately ⅓ the distance from the larger end with two swivels used with short chains and three with longer chains to prevent twisting.
A partially rotten log, used as a drag, or a few twists of wire will not suffice and can result in a lost trap and an injured animal.
Also, although exposed baits and carcasses may attract furbearers, they also attract other predators and scavengers such as bald eagles. Trappers should ensure sets are 30 feet or more from exposed bait, or on trails to the carcass.
If a bird is accidentally caught, trappers can try to release it unharmed. However, if an eagle gets in a set and can't be released, or if it is injured, refuge staff should be notified so they can be of assistance.
"This kind of thing isn't common," Jozwiak said, "but it does happen from time to time."