A man who claims he picked up a dead bald eagle after seeing it get struck by a vehicle faces charges from the Department of Natural Resources.
Josh Sharpe said he was with his girlfriend in early June when he saw a minivan strike a juvenile bald eagle on Veteran’s Memorial Parkway near Westside Road.
“It was dead,” he told the Statesboro Herald. “I got it and drove home, then called the (Bulloch County) sheriff’s department.”
Sharpe said the person at the Sheriff’s Office told him to discard the carcass, but Bulloch County sheriff’s Capt. Todd Hutchens, who assisted DNR officials in the investigation regarding the case, said there was no record of Sharpe’s call.
Sharpe said he also called the Metter DNR office but got no answer, so he called the Atlanta office. Someone there told him to discard the carcass as well, he said.
Hutchens said he was unsure whether Sharpe made those calls, stating the incident occurred on a Saturday.
“I can’t confirm that he called, and DNR (officials) say there was no call,” he said.
Sharpe, unwilling to toss the juvenile eagle away, made a post on Facebook seeking legal ways to have the bird mounted. That led to someone reporting him to the DNR, resulting in the investigation, with Ranger 1st Class Jason Miller, who is also game warden for Bulloch County, taking the lead.
“The eagle came to my attention on somebody’s Facebook page, so basically, it was an anonymous complaint,” Miller said. “So I got on there and looked at it myself, investigated it, and it appeared to be an eagle.”
Miller was able to identify Sharpe as the possessor of the eagle. Miller, DNR Sgt. Brian Hobbins and Hutchens then went to Sharpe’s residence on Gordon Beasley Road and met with Sharpe and his girlfriend.
“My first question was, ‘Where’s my eagle?’” Miller said. “And (Sharpe) went straight to telling us he did have it in the freezer and didn’t want to get in trouble. He just told us he had found the bird, picked it up. Whether that’s true or not, we don’t know.
“While we were at the freezer to get the eagle out, I noticed a deer hide he had in there, frozen, and the duck, frozen,” Miller said, adding that another deer was also found.
After checking, it was discovered that Sharpe didn’t possess hunting licenses for any of the game.
He was subsequently cited for possession of the eagle; for not having a Harvest Information Program stamp, not having a Georgia waterfowl license and not having a federal duck stamp; and two cases of failure to report and record game animals for the deer, according to Miller.
Sharpe’s girlfriend was also cited for possession of the eagle, Miller said, after she was seen in a photo with the bird.
Miller said the cause of death for the eagle has yet to be determined, and he’s holding the eagle carcass in an evidence freezer in case a judge or attorney requests it as evidence during the upcoming court dates. After the state charges are disposed of, Miller plans to turn the eagle over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a necropsy.
“The possession part is illegal right off the bat, but if (Sharpe) had nothing to do with this bird dying, I don’t want to pursue anything that he didn’t do,” he said.
But Hutchens and Miller both said the case is still under investigation, and further charges are possible.
Sharpe said he feels he did nothing wrong, although Hutchens also pointed out that regardless of circumstances, possession of a bald eagle is illegal.
“They treated us like criminals,” Sharpe said. “I did not shoot that eagle.”
He said he was seeking legal ways to preserve the bird when he posted on social media.
“I wasn’t trying to hide it,” he said, adding that he is seeking an attorney’s advice regarding the charges.
Protecting birds of prey
According to DNR Sgt. Chris Moore, possession of illegal wildlife is not an uncommon occurrence.
“It just depends on how often it’s brought to our attention. Sometimes when we deal with these types of situations, it’s a scenario where something’s been illegally killed; sometimes it’s a situation where they are in someone’s possession unlawfully,” Moore said, adding that there are both state and federal statutes that prohibit possession of birds of prey.
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, enacted in April 2004, reads, “Whoever, within the United States or any place subject to the jurisdiction thereof, without being permitted to do so as provided in this subchapter, shall knowingly … take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or in any manner any bald eagle commonly known as the American eagle or any golden eagle, alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof of the foregoing eagles, or whoever violates any permit or regulation issued pursuant to this subchapter, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than one year or both.”
And Georgia has its own laws protecting birds, specifically birds of prey. According to Georgia Code 27-3-22, “It shall be unlawful for any person to hunt, trap, take, possess, sell, purchase, ship, or transport any hawk, eagle, owl, or any other bird or any part, nest, or egg thereof, except for the English or European house sparrow, the European starling, feral pigeons, and domestic fowl, and except as otherwise permitted by the game and fish laws of this state; provided, however, that any person may transport into this state feathers of birds, other than migratory game birds, for millinery purposes.”
“Occasionally, we’ll deal with this where people possess feathers, talons, other parts of the eagles, and there’s occasionally a market,” Moore added. “The feathers and talons of eagles and birds of prey are very sought after, basically as trinkets where people like to fashion them into different types of artwork and sell them. The sale of these birds’ feathers and parts is also prohibited.”
Moore also added that the possession of parts laws have a purpose.
“That’s part of the reason that possession of their parts is unlawful, because once it’s reduced to just feathers, talons and pieces, it’s very difficult to make that determination as to, ‘Is this someone we’re dealing with that has taken this illegally, and how has this bird come to be in this person’s possession?’” he said.
After all of the legalities surrounding the eagle are resolved, the bird’s carcass may continue to serve a purpose.
“Even afterwards, when these cases are dealt with and disposed of, the eagle parts and feathers are generally turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Service, where they’re either used for educational purposes within the state or they are relinquished for use by Native American tribes,” Moore said. “They use them for ceremonial purposes in certain parts of America. Because otherwise, they don’t have a legal recourse for them to obtain these things, so they try to make arrangements for them to use them for religious and ceremonial purposes.”