CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal and state wildlife law enforcement officers are seeking assistance from the public in investigating the shooting death of one of the world's oldest known wild bald eagles, a 22-year-old female found fatally wounded in a Hardy County hayfield last November.
The eagle died en route to the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia's rehabilitation facility in Morgantown, according to Capt. Roy Cool of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources regional office in Romney.
"She had a silver metal band with an identifying number on her right leg," Cool said. The number indicated that the eagle had been banded as a chick in a nest in Ontario, Canada, in 1990.
"She's supposed to be the eighth-oldest bald eagle on record," said DNR wildlife biologist Kieran O'Malley. "She was otherwise very healthy and could have lived even longer."
Cool said an X-ray exam and other forensic tests indicated that a bullet passed through the eagle, apparently as she was in flight, based on the location of the entry and exit wounds.
The eagle was found Nov. 18, the day before the start of the buck firearms season, in a field about two miles from the South Branch of the Potomac River near the community of Old Fields. A portion of the South Branch in Hardy County is a known nesting site for bald eagles, but O'Malley said it was unknown whether the 22-year-old eagle had nested there, was overwintering in the area, or was simply passing through.
While bald eagles have been known to live up to 47 years in captivity, the life expectancy of the species is significantly less in the wild.
A bald eagle that had been banded as a chick in Maine and was struck and killed by a car 33 years later in New Brunswick in 2010 is believed to hold the posthumous record for longevity in the wild.