By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — When two police officers rescued a bald eagle from a trap on Thanksgiving, they were surprised to find such a majestic bird in Salem.
Sgt. Michael Wagner and Officer John O’Donnell wondered where it came from after releasing the raptor, with only a minor cut, from the jaws of a steel trap found about 100 yards off Garabedian Drive.
Now, they know. It’s from Rhode Island.
Wagner received a call yesterday from New Hampshire Audubon biologist Chris Martin, who had been working with the state Fish and Game Department since last week to find out more about the eagle.
Bands found on each leg provided serial numbers that helped Martin trace the bird to the Scituate Reservoir in northern Rhode Island, where the eagle — believed to be a female — was hatched along with another chick in 2005, he said.
Martin even tracked down the biologist who climbed up to the nest and banded the eaglet. At the time, it was the only documented bald eagle nest in that area — about 70 miles from Salem. Bald eagles live between 10 and 20 years, he said.
“He verified that exact bird,” Martin said.
He said he suspects the eagle, snared while feeding on a beaver carcass used as bait to catch a coyote or fox, lives near where it was found. He also believes it has a mate. Eagles are often found hundreds of miles from where they hatch, he said.
Wagner said if not for Methuen resident James Ranson and a friend who first saw the trapped eagle, the bird may have died.
The eagle also was lucky that only part of its leg got caught in the steel trap, sparing it from serious injury, Martin said.
“If it had been caught by its entire foot, it may have been much more debilitating,” Martin said.
There are only 35 pairs of nesting bald eagles in New Hampshire. But that compares to just 22 pairs in 2010 as the bird — once near extinction — is making a comeback, Martin said. That figure was in the teens only five years ago, he said.
Extensive use of pesticides, such as DDT, in the 1940s and 1950s nearly wiped out the species, Martin said.
“There were no breeding pairs in the state for about 40 years,” he said.
The banning of those pesticides and the use of special metal wraps placed around trees with eagle nests has protected the eggs and eagles from predators such as raccoons, Martin said.
Predators are responsible for wiping out about half of the young eagle population, he said.
The Fish and Game Department determined the trap had been legally set, Wagner said. The trapper’s name has not been released.
“Everything is up to snuff,” Wagner said. “He abided by all the laws.”
Fish and Game biologist Patrick Tate confirmed there were no violations. He said people are required to check their traps on a daily basis.
Wagner said it took him, O’Donnell and Ransom about half an hour to free the eagle. Wagner and O’Donnell said the rescue was one of the most rewarding moments of their police careers.
“I would do anything to help a poor animal in distress,” Wagner said. “It was probably one of the most exciting calls I’ve ever had.”