2nd poisoned eagle found

Published 9:12 pm Monday, January 19, 2009

Less than a month after wildlife rehabilitators released a juvenile bald eagle that had been found at the Suffolk landfill suffering from pesticide poisoning, they have another, older one on their hands that was found sick less than a quarter-mile away.

The new bird, which is estimated to be four or five years old, had blood-lead levels higher than the normal tests were able to measure, according to Natalie Hall, a veterinary intern for the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

Hall said the organization, which operates a hospital for native wildlife, had sent blood samples to another lab for testing with more sensitive equipment.


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The eagle was found late Saturday morning alongside the eastbound lanes of Route 58, about a quarter-mile west of the landfill, according to Suffolk spokeswoman Debbie George.

Suffolk’s animal control unit responded to reports that the bird was standing on the side of the road. When they arrived, it flew across the highway into the median, but animal control officers were still able to catch it. They noticed then that it “appeared to be unhealthy.”

“It’s my understanding that if the bird were healthy, it never would have allowed itself to be captured,” George said.

Hall said the bird was “very weak and seizuring” when it arrived at the Waynesboro facility early Sunday afternoon. Its physical symptoms were consistent with a serious case of lead poisoning, and doctors there put it in a “critical care chamber” as they administer fluids, oxygen and various medications designed to sedate the bird, control its convulsions and “help pull the lead out of its body.”

Workers at the Wildlife Center had hoped the eagle’s condition would have improved after most of a day under their care, Hall said, but it was still having seizures as of Monday morning.

“This is a very severe case,” she added, noting that there likely would be some physical problems caused by the lead poisoning that could not be counteracted with treatment.

“Essentially, we’re going to have to take it day by day,” she said.

Hall noted that it is “common” for eagles and other raptors to be brought to the facility for lead-poisoning treatment this time of year. She explained that sometimes the birds have been shot with lead pellets and that other times they have eaten prey that was shot with lead.

The veterinarians will try tomorrow to determine the cause of this particular bird’s situation. She could not explain what might be behind the fact that two eagles have had similar poisoning episodes in such a small area and over such a short time.

“It kind of puts a little bit of a red flag on it that we need to continue to look at that area,” she said.