A reward of up to $10,000 has been offered for the return of a bald eagle whose theft from a Quogue wildlife refuge has left hearts broken and wildlife advocates pleading for his return.
Word of the birdnapping of Sam, who arrived at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge 31 years ago after a gunshot wound left him flightless, has spread among his fans, social media, wildlife networks and even psychics since he was stolen sometime between 3 a.m. and 4:15 a.m. Tuesday, authorities said.
"It's emotionally so difficult and overwhelming," said refuge assistant director Marisa Nelson, who has cared for the bird since 2003. "Every hour of the day is so long, and the more time that goes by, the more we're concerned."
She said the refuge won't press charges: "Just bring the bird back alive or drop it off at a local vet alive and that's it. We just want him back alive, unharmed."
The reward of up to $10,000 is being offered by Crime Stoppers in Suffolk and Nassau counties, Nelson said.
Suffolk police said an arrest has to be made for a reward to be collected.
Separately, the Nassau County SPCA announced it was offering a $5,000 reward "to anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible" for stealing the eagle.
The fencing of Sam's enclosure had been cut and video surveillance released by Quogue and Suffolk police show a person holding a package in one hand, then a vehicle driving off.
Bald eagles are federally protected. It is illegal to possess any bald eagle without a license and to own any bald eagle parts, even one feather, Nelson said. When they die, federal law requires them to be taken to the National Eagle Repository in Colorado so their feathers can be used by Native Americans and Alaskan Indians for religious and cultural purposes.
Sam is about 35 years old and came to the refuge for care after he was shot, leading to the amputation of his left wing, refuge officials said.
He loves to eat fresh fish, especially the heads, Nelson said, and he relishes bathing when freshwater is placed in his tub, where he then dips his head and shakes his feathers.
What makes this eagle special is his gift of gab.
"He was talkative, interactive," Nelson said. "You would walk by and he would talk to you as you walked by. While you stopped there, he spoke directly to you. . . . He just seemed like a wise old bird."
"It's terrible to worry when you don't know what to worry about. We don't know if he's alive and well somewhere or if he's not. We are trying to keep hope. We're getting a lot of emotional support from the community because a lot of people cared about this bird."
Suffolk and Quogue police ask anyone with information to call 800-220-TIPS or text “SCPD” and the message to “CRIMES” (274637). Callers may remain anonymous.
The Nassau SPCA can be reached at 516-843-7722.