Bald eagle rescued, named after local hero

WEST MILFORD. The eagle was found standing in a backyard, suffering from broken bones and lead poisoning.

| 24 Aug 2022 | 01:41

In the spring of this year, West Milford resident Tonya Butkus found something quite unexpected in her backyard, an injured bald eagle. Adam Faatz, who works with the NJ Department of Environmental Conservation, shared this story on social media.

He said Butkus had contacted him, saying that she had a bald eagle that was “just standing in her backyard.”

“I retrieved the bird, “Faatz recalled, “which would later be found to have two broken bones in its wing as well as lead poisoning. It went through treatment, received surgery (pins and hardware, which later came out), and was in a recovery center for a few months.”

Birds of prey can become sick with lead poising due to the lead ammunition used in big game hunting and in lead fishing lures. The lead ammunition fragments upon impact with the animal, which is then ingested by the bird. The bird’s stomach acid then quickly breaks down the lead fragment, allowing it to be absorbed into the bird’s blood stream.

Faatz continued, “While in recovery, I maintained contact with the homeowner who reported him. It was discovered that the reporting female had a brother who was killed in the Iraq war. So myself, the state, federal fish and game, and the multiple raptor centers locally, felt it fitting to name the eagle ‘Jason’ after her brother who had been killed. The name will be associated with the bird’s leg bands nationwide.”

The soldier in question was Jason Butkus, who had been killed on August 30, 2011, from injuries sustained when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his Humvee. He was a Class of 1991 graduate of West Milford High School.

On Sunday, August 14, 2022, Jason the eagle was released back into the wild up near where he was discovered, and he’s back home in West Milford, according to Faatz.

Faatz thanked the state and federal fish and game agencies, Giselle Smisko at the Avian Wildlife Center, as well as “the raptor trust, the doctors who performed the lifesaving surgeries, and the residents who discovered him and knew to report him as injured.”