On February 13, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources biologists were conducting a field research and banding project on Golden Eagles in Bath County. One of the eagles encountered during the project had a large, abnormal mass on the left side of its beak. A DWR biologist safely captured the eagle, and the bird was transported to the Wildlife Center of Virginia later that same day.
On admission, the eagle, likely a female, was bright and alert. Dr. Olivia, one of the Center's veterinary interns, examined the bird and found she was in good body condition, sufficiently hydrated, and did not have any apparent musculoskeletal injuries. The bird’s left eye showed evidence of previous trauma, but is considered to be fully healed and visual.
Radiographs were within normal limits, and the veterinary staff noted the bird had a full crop – indicating she had been able to hunt and scavenge for food appropriately in the wild. An in-house blood test revealed that the bird had a blood lead level of 0.128 ppm. While this lead level is considered "subclinical", the veterinary team will begin a course of oral chelation therapy, as no level of lead is safe.
During a closer examination, Dr. Olivia described the mass on the eagle’s face as a “large, soft-ball sized featherless, fluctuant mass between the left eye and the left commissure of the mouth. There are numerous firm aspects of the mass, with several large fluctuant pockets.” Approximately 20 mL of fluid was drained from the mass, which is being tested to better determine the cause and nature of the eagle’s condition.
While the cause of the mass is currently not known, the veterinary staff plan to surgically debride and debulk the area during the coming days. On Monday, February 20, the eagle will be transported to Virginia Veterinary Specialists (VVS) in Charlottesville to receive a CT scan, hopefully providing further insight in to the cause of the mass. Staff at VVS have worked with the Center to help provide care for several other patients over the years, including a bobcat in 2013, and one of 2022's bear cubs.
For now, the eagle will remain in the Center’s indoor Hold area where she will receive antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, fluids, and undergo chelation therapy to eliminate the lead from her system. Due to the unknown underlying cause of mass and its placement near the eagle’s left eye, this patient’s prognosis is currently guarded.
Check out a day in this Eagle's treatment here:
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