HELENA, Mont. — A golden eagle that was kept in a small cage for 41 years, and frequently beaten, has died of a lung ailment it apparently developed during captivity.
Henry Thomas, a falconer from Washington state, rescued the bird from its Montana captor in September and named it Star. He said the female eagle had appeared to be improving as recently as Sunday, but it was psychologically as well as physically damaged and showed little will to live.
Thomas said the bird contracted what he thought was a cold during the 18-hour trip with him to his facility near Arlington, Wash., but it turned out to be a more serious ailment known as Asperigillosis, a mold-like infection of the lungs.
The eagle died Tuesday night.
“Star had become infected in the unclean cage of her prior owner, where the mold lay dormant in her lungs until stress from the interstate move activated the disease,” Thomas said.
A medical exam just before the bird’s death revealed lung disease, brain damage, an eye injury and a poorly healed broken wing.
Thomas said the bird’s captor took it from its nest as a fledgling in 1959.
It was kept for 41 years in a small cage and frequently taunted and beaten. It probably acquired its fatal lung infection from unsanitary conditions of the cage, Thomas said.
Thomas has declined to name the man who kept the bird, saying only that he lived north of Helena and that his widow gave up the eagle after her husband’s death.
FWS agent Rick Branzel of Missoula, Mont., said golden eagles acquired after Oct. 24, 1962, are protected under the federal Eagle Protection Act. Star, captured in 1959, was not covered by the law.