On April 12, a visitor at Booker T. Washington Park in Charlottesville found a young fledgling Eastern Screech-Owl on the ground. The bird appeared to be abnormally quiet, so the rescuer took the young owl to Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service & Specialty [VETSS]. The bird was transferred to the Wildlife Center of Virginia the following day.
The veterinary team examined the owl when it arrived and found that the bird was quiet and minimally responsive. No significant external injuries were found, and the team decided to run a blood lead test, which came back positive at 0.24 ppm -- a significant amount of lead in the tiny owl's system. Historically, the Center staff have routinely run in-house lead tests on all eagles, vultures, and loons -- all species that are very prone to ingesting lead fragments that cause lead toxicity. In the past year, the staff have expanded to testing all admitted raptors during hunting season, as well more readily running lead tests on many different species if any potential symptoms are observed. Recent research in the wildlife medicine field has indicated that lead toxicity is an issue for many different species -- including mammals and reptiles too.
The owl started a five-day course of chelation therapy, to "scrub" the lead from the bird's system, and the owl was placed in the Center's critical care chamber to receive additional oxygen therapy. In the days following its admission, the owl remained quiet but alert, and is exhibiting a significant head tilt. A follow-up lead test on April 19 revealed a "low" result, indicating that the chelation therapy was successful. The veterinary team has been considering removing the owl from the additional oxygen therapy if the bird continues to maintain its condition.