Washington man pleads guilty to "killing spree" of bald eagles for profit

A Washington State man has admitted to a "killing spree" of over 3,600 birds, including protected bald and golden eagles, to sell their body parts and feathers on the black market. Travis John Branson, 48, pleaded guilty in Montana federal court to charges of conspiracy, bartering eagles, and selling wildlife worth over $350.

According to court documents, Branson and his alleged partner Simon Paul killed the eagles near the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana from 2015 to 2021. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, originally passed in 1940, makes it illegal to kill or sell these birds.

Branson brazenly texted a potential buyer, admitting "I don't get em for free though. out [here] committing felonies." Investigators uncovered the illegal enterprise after searching Branson's cellphones, revealing messages and photos detailing the sale of eagle parts and feathers.

From The Washington Post:

On Dec. 17, 2020, Branson texted a buyer a photo of a golden eagle tail set. Two days later, Paul mailed the eagle feather set from near the reservation to Texas. On Dec. 21, Branson got a message from the buyer: "Got that thang from Simon. And the mirror feathers. Tnks."

A buyer on March 1, 2021, messaged Branson and asked if he had eagle feathers for sale. Branson responded with two pictures of golden eagle tail feathers, according to the indictment. The buyer sent Branson $650 via PayPal, and Branson mailed a package containing feathers.

In March 2021, law enforcement caught Branson with the feet and feathers of a golden eagle in his vehicle after a shoot near the reservation. They also found the carcass of the eagle in a nearby field. The charges against Branson carry a maximum total sentence of 13 years in prison.

See also: Incredible slo-mo footage of a bald eagle grabbing a fish and having an in-flight meal (video)