Bald Eagle #18-0059

Admission Date: 
January 28, 2018
Location of Rescue: 
Highland County, VA
Cause of Admission / Condition: 
Suspect hit by vehicle; subclinical lead toxicity
Died February 1, 2018
Patient Status: 
Patient Archive

On the evening of January 28, a juvenile Bald Eagle was found on the road in Highland County. A Wildlife Center transporter was the one who initially spotted the eagle on the road; several more people stopped to help, including a co-worker of Wildlife Center board member [and IT guru] Kurt Plowman. Kurt rode along to transport the eagle to the Center that same evening.

Dr. Monica, the Center’s veterinary intern, examined the female eagle when it arrived. The eagle was quiet but alert and standing in the transport container. Dr. Monica didn’t note any significant external injuries; both of the eagle’s “wrists” were mildly abraded, likely from struggling during capture or transport. The eagle was in great body condition and had a full crop. No fractures were noted on radiographs, though there were signs of internal trauma, particularly to the lungs.

A lead test revealed a level of 0.13 ppm, which is considered “subclinical”. Typically this level does not warrant treatment, but based on the eagle’s attitude, Dr. Monica opted to start chelation therapy to remove the lead from the eagle’s blood. With sub-clinical levels of lead in their bloodstream, eagles may appear normal but still suffer damaging long-term effects.  The birds may be able to fly, but with less agility.  They may be able to see, but with less precision.  And they may be able to feed themselves, but not capture live prey.  It may be that this eagle was eating roadkill and was unable to fly out of the way of an oncoming vehicle.

The veterinary team will offer supportive care in the coming days while the eagle finishes her course of lead treatment.

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February 2, 2018

Chelation therapy continued on Bald Eagle #18-0059 in the days following her admission; while the bird was occasionally bright, the bird’s behavior was not that of a typical healthy eagle. On February 1, the bird’s attitude was quieter. During afternoon treatments, the eagle stopped breathing. Dr. Monica intubated the bird right away and began chest compressions; she also administered emergency medication to revive the eagle. Sadly, the bird was not responsive and passed away.

Dr. Monica performed a necropsy of Bald Eagle #18-0059 the following day to see if any additional information could be learned about the bird’s death. She found multiple issues with the bird’s internal organs, including changes to the bird’s heart, lung contusions and plaques, a mottled and discolored liver, and pale kidneys. Samples were collected for submission to an outside laboratory; Dr. Monica suspects that the lesions on some of the internal organs are due to a bacterial infection.