A two year old bald eagle is recovering in captivity, after being spotted staggering near a reservoir in Short Hills, N.J.
"You couldn't write a book on how to catch these birds because every situation is different," said Ben Montgomery of the non-profit The Raptor Trust in nearby Millington.
Montgomery and his co-worker Cathy Malok took shallow water kayaks out into a wetland near New Jersey American Water's Canoe Brook Reservoir to try to catch the young bird. But she wouldn't cooperate, and finally they had to jump into freezing water to get a net close enough to catch her.
"She was about to jump up on the embankment and we didn't want to lose her at that point, jumping into the reservoir," explained Montgomery about their decision to jump out of the kayaks.
A close examination at The Raptor Trust determined that the bald eagle was suffering from lead poisoning, likely coming from eating from an animal carcass killed by buckshot.
"There's an awful lot of it in the free environment, there's too much lead and too much mercury and a lot of stuff to kind of screw the world up with," said Raptor Trust founder Dr. Leonard Soucy.
A blood test shows her lead count three times the maximum safe level, and veterinary technicians at The Raptor Trust are using the same process given to humans to purge her body of the poisonous metal.
"If the lead was any more toxic, the eagle would probably be dead," said Soucy.
Her prognosis after just a few days of treatment is now considered guarded, but positive.
"She's a tough, tough bird," marveled Technician Kristi Ward, who added that she seems to have a healthy appetite.
Why would employees at New Jersey American Water's Short Hills reservoir, just 15 miles from Manhattan as the eagle flies, care about a floundering bird in their watershed?
"Eagle's on the ground at night, it's gonna be dinner for somebody (foxes or raccoons)," said the company's environmental manager, Gary Matthews.
He quickly added, "How great is it to be able to come to work, put a day's work in and be able to see a bald eagle on your lunch break? You just don't get that every day, not in northern New Jersey you don't."
In fact, a state DEP report this year shows only 84 nesting pairs of bald eagles, though that is a dramatic improvement from the single pair found back in 1970, soon after when the pesticide DDT was finally banned.