Rescuing a national treasure: what to do if you encounter a bald eagle

Brushes with America's national bird are becoming increasingly common as their numbers rise.

A police officer rescued a bald eagle in Maryland on Thursday morning.

Officer Jennifer Gill, who works with the Animal Services Division of the Montgomery County Police Department, named the bird “Trust." A local resident saw the bird walk into the woods, where Officer Gill found the bird and wrapped it in towels.

Once a rarity, bald eagle sightings have become more frequent in recent decades, especially as the raptors have grown accustomed to scavenging for food along US roadways.

Because of the nature of Trust's injuries and its location near a main road, wildlife workers the Owl Moon Raptor Center, in Boyd, Md., which took the bird, believe that the eagle may have been hit by a car while it was feeding on roadkill.

"They don’t fly off until the last second sometimes, and then they get hit," Suzanne Shoemaker, founder of the center, told ABC News. "They don’t even see [a car] coming until it's close."

Encounters with America’s national bird have become more common as their numbers have rebounded.

In 1970, there were fewer than 1,000 bald eagles raising broods in the continental United States, according to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. There are now more than 5,000 nesting pairs – bald eagles, like certain other birds of prey species, mate for life – thanks in large part to conservation efforts and habitat conservation.

Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, and are now classified as Least Concern because their population is increasing. However, they are still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prevents the trade and sale of bald eagles and their parts throughout its migratory area.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service recommends that people can help bald eagle conservation efforts continue by leaving them and their nests undisturbed if encountered in the wild. If people do come across an injured eagle, the Service recommends that they seek assistance from someone trained in handling wildlife, such as a licensed veterinarian, and carefully follow their instructions. The emphasis in any wildlife encounter should be, first and foremost, on preserving your personal safety, but the Service also points out that the well-being of the eagle is also paramount.

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