I have to admit, I’ve never wondered what happens to dead eagles. I guess I’ve never seen a dead eagle so it’s just not something that crossed my mind, but when I came across this blog post from NebraskaLand magazine, I had to click on it.

Because of their honored status and listing on the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the birds are not treated like most dead animals, that is, left to rot in the field or scooped off the side of the road to be deposited in a landfill. Instead, eagles recovered by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission end up in a freezer, and from there they go to the National Eagle Repository in Denver, Colorado, which, according to Joel Jorgenson, NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager, “is where the actual work of preparing and distributing the eagle parts to Native Americans is executed.”

“In Nebraska, dead eagles come to us from many different directions. They can be reported by the public, found and picked up by Commission staff, discovered near power lines by the state’s utilities (most utilities, by the way, work proactively to reduce eagle and other bird deaths from collision and electrocution) and so on…”

“In late February, our freezer was filled to the brim with eagle carcasses; the time had come to make an overnight shipment to the Eagle Repository. We prepared and packaged about thirty eagle carcasses and we still have a few left in the freezer because we ran out of boxes. We recover and process 30-40 eagle carcasses each year. Yes, people like to think of eagles as symbols of vitality, freedom and wilderness and seeing carcasses may challenge this precept. However, like all living things, all eagles will die. It is important to remember that Bald Eagles, which make up the overwhelming majority of the dead eagles we receive, have increased in recent decades. Furthermore, the partnership and the process in place serve an important purpose.”

That purpose is allowing Native Americans access to the eagle feathers and eagle parts that are important in their religious ceremonies. By salvaging carcasses, the NGPC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are able to give those eagles another life. Pretty cool, when you think about it.