On October 23, Chesapeake Animal Services responded to a call regarding an adult Bald Eagle that was down and unable to fly. An animal control officer contained the bird and brought it to permitted wildlife rehabilitator Lisa Barlow, who provided supportive care overnight. The eagle was transferred to the Wildlife Center of Virginia the following day for evaluation.
On admission, the eagle was quiet but alert and responsive, with an adequate body condition score of 3/5. Veterinary intern Dr. Emma examined the bird and found corneal ulcers in both eyes with minor swelling of the surrounding tissue. Mild pododermatitis lesions, also known as “bumblefoot,” were noted on each foot, with the left being slightly more affected and the right having a broken talon in addition to the lesions. Radiographs revealed an old healed fracture in the bird's right leg, and an emergency blood panel showed that the eagle was severely dehydrated and suffering from clinical lead toxicosis of 0.534 ppm – a very high lead level that has been known to cause permanent neurologic damage.
Dr. Emma and her team quickly administered fluids to combat dehydration. Antibiotic eye drops were prescribed to help treat the corneal damage and chelation therapy was started to remove lead from the eagle's system. Dr. Emma also provided anti-inflammatories and cleaned the pododermatitis lesions with an antibacterial solution.
During the next week, the veterinary team noted that the eagle was responding well to treatment. A repeat blood test on October 30 revealed a lead level of 0.099ppm – still considered clinical, but a significantly lower amount than the previous test. The foot lesions appeared to be healing appropriately. The veterinary team was still concerned about corneal opacities observed in the bird's left eye, but a few days later, a repeat ocular exam was within normal limits, meaning that the cloudiness of the left eye that was previously observed was no longer of concern.
On November 5, the eagle's blood was again tested for lead with the results showing a sub-clinical lead toxicosis of 0.066 ppm. Since the eagle proved to be responding well to treatment, it was moved outside to the Center's A2 flight pen the following day.
Rehab staff have begun a daily exercise regimen to help the eagle rebuild its strength and stamina. They report that the eagle initially struggled to maintain flight and was only able to make 1-2 passes before becoming grounded, but its stamina quickly improved. By November 14, the eagle was increased to 5-10 flight passes per session.
For now, the eagle will remain in the A2 flight pen where it will continue to be exercised daily by rehab staff.