Eagle survives poisoning, returns to wild
LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- A female bald eagle found on the ground and near death from zinc poisoning earlier this month returned to the skies over Greenbrier County on Wednesday, following nearly three weeks of rehabilitation at the Three Rivers Avian Center.
A dozer operator at the Greenbrier County Landfill spotted the grounded eagle Aug. 10 near the landfill's main entrance gate. He reported the bird's presence to landfill manager Wayne Childers, who in turn contacted Greenbrier County animal control officer Robert McClung.
"She was sitting on her rear end, barely able to stand because she was so weak and run down," when McClung arrived at the scene, said Wendy Perrone, executive director of Three Rivers Avian Center (TRAC) at Brooks in Summers County.
Once the eagle arrived at TRAC, it lost consciousness on several occasions and was placed in the facility's intensive care unit. Dr. Bill Streit, TRAC's staff veterinarian, examined the bird and took blood samples, which he sent off for analysis.
While lead poisoning was initially suspected as the cause of the eagle's illness, when the results of the bloodwork came back and were analyzed, it was determined that zinc poisoning was in fact the culprit.
"Zinc phosphide is a common ingredient in a new series of poisons used to kill rodents," said Perrone. Zinc phosphide-based poisons don't immediately kill the rats, mice and others rodents that consume it, so animals who ingest it remain temporarily mobile, but in a weakened state, making them easy prey for raptors and other forms of wildlife.
During the eagle's first few days at TRAC, "we had a real problem getting her to eat," Perrone said. "She was very careful about what food she took in."
Mice, rats, rabbits and bluegill were among entrees offered, but the bird's talons-down favorite proved to be squirrel. Only two road-killed squirrels could be rounded up and served to the patient, but both "went right down the hatch, without a trace left behind," Perrone said.
The eagle was given a probiotic powder to restore "good" bacteria to her digestive tract. By Aug. 20, she was accepting white rats for food and was steadily rebuilding her strength, and by Monday she was flying well in a 40-foot enclosure in TRAC's flight barn, and appeared to be ready for release.
On Wednesday, the eagle was brought to a hillside hayfield near Lewisburg in a darkened, padded carrier, from which she would be released. "She'd gone to sleep in the carrier, so we had to get her awake first," said Perrone.
The carrier was set atop a large, round hay bale. After the carrier's door was opened, the eagle, known as "The Lady" to the TRAC staff, emerged after a few moments and sprang into flight.
"It was a gorgeous release," Perrone said. "We watched it fly for quite a long distance -- more than a mile."
Eagles, Perrone said, "are majestic, super-intelligent creatures. Their presence speaks to something in people that seems to be universal. Grown men get choked up when they turn in injured or sick eagles, and feel to call back and check on them. It's just really neat to be able to release one that was so close to death. 'Heartwarming' is an overworked word, but that's what it is."
A video of the eagle's release is available at TRAC's Website, www.tracwv.org.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com or 304-348-5169.