First Birthday for Norfolk Bald Eagle

Monday, April 27 marks the first birthday of the Norfolk Bald Eagle -- a patient at the Wildlife Center of Virginia since May 22. Nicknamed by his fans from the Norfolk Botanical Garden EagleCam as Poink, or Buddy, or Easter, at the Wildlife Center the eagle is known by his patient number -- #08-887.

[Animals admitted to the Center are given sequential patient numbers - in the order in which they are admitted. Patient #08-887 was the 887th patient admitted to the Center during 2008. During 2008, a total of 2,469 patients were admitted to the Center. ]

Not long after this eaglet hatched at the Botanical Garden, EagleCam watchers noticed a mysterious fast-growing lump on the side of the bird's beak. On May 22, the eagle was taken from its nest by the state wildlife veterinarian and brought to the Wildlife Center in Waynesboro.

Among the highlights of the eagle's treatment:

May 22. Upon admission, the young eagle received a complete medical examination, including radiographs [x-rays]. These initial x-rays found that the large growth had distorted the wall of the beak.

Despite the disruption of being relocated from its nest to the Wildlife Center, 08-887 showed a healthy appetite soon after  arrival -- eating six large mice [two mice at each of three feedings].

May 24. The eagle was taken to Augusta Medical Center in Fishersville, a nearby "human hospital", for an MRI. The MRI revealed that the mass had invaded both the keratin surface of the beak and the associated underlying bone.

May 29. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries received confirmation from the Southeastern Cooperative for Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Georgia that the cause of the growth on #08-887 was Avian Pox. This viral disease is generally spread through mosquitoes; symptoms include warty nodules on the featherless parts of the skin. Treatment for avian pox includes supportive care and stimulation of the bird's own immune system. With this diagnosis, Center veterinarians began treating 08-887 with interferon as well as antibiotics and antifungal drugs to prevent secondary infections.

July 9. Through June, the Center veterinary and rehabilitation staff noticed a gradual but sustained shrinkage of the avian pox lesion on the side of the eagle's beak. On July 9, when Center staff went to examine the eaglet, they found that the remainder of the lesion had fallen off on its own. Underneath the spot where the mass had been was a bed of granulation tissue, indicating both the end of the mass and recovery by the body.

July 12. The Wildlife Center veterinary team operated on the eagle -- to clean out the remnants of the pox lesion and to repair damage to bone and beak tissue. To assist, the Center brought in Dr. R. Avery Bennett, Professor of Veterinary Clinical Medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a veterinary known internaionally for his surgical skills in complicated cases.

The eagle did experience some significant post-operative bleeding, which was serious and potentially life-threatening. However, the Center's veterinary team was able to rebandage the surgical site periodically, to administer drugs to reduce blood pressure, and to provide other supportive care.

The surgical team also attached a lightweight acrylic extension -- a small "brace" on the side of the eagle's beak, designed to better align the beak when the bird closes its mouth. In the days following surgery, this brace loosened and was removed.

July 15. With continued improvements and recovery from surgery, the Bald Eagle was moved to a small enclosure outdoors.

July 24. With continued improvements, and to reduce the bird's stress, the eagle was moved to a larger outdoor pen [approximate dimensions 8 feet by 14 feet].

August 1. The Norfolk Eagle was brought into the clinic for the first of a series of beak trims, establishing the treatment procedure that would mark much of the eagle's time at the Wildlife Center. Every few weeks, the veterinary staff anesthetize the bird and trim the beak. The primary tool for this procedure is a Dremel rotary tool.

August 4.   Results from a blood sample sent to AMR Laboratories in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania revealed that #08-887 is a male.

October 22. The eagle was moved into a larger flight pen, allowing him to stretch his wings and fly 45 feet to the next perch. After being placed in this new pen, the eagle spent two to three minutes checking out his surroundings, then easily flew 20 feet away and six feet up to the nearest perch.

December 18. The Norfolk eagle was moved to one of the Center's largest flight pens -- 100 feet long. After a brief period of adjustment, #08-887 soon took to flying back and forth from perch to perch.

April 2009  The eagle continues to be brought back into the clinic every few weeks for a beak trim. The most recent took place on April 1. As part of that procedure -- which took about 15 minutes -- approximately 5 mm were taken off of the tip, and 1-2 mm off of the left side, of the lower beak.


Norfolk Eagle #08-887 Factoids

During his treatment at the Wildlife Center, Eagle #08-887 has been fed:

  • 2,370 mice
  • 40 rats
  • 1 chick
  • 28 fish
  • in addition, the eagle was tube-fed 42 times [primarily during his first month at the Center].

The eagle has been housed in nine different cages -- ranging from a modified dog crate to the Center's largest flight pen.

The eagle has been brought into the clinic for a Dremel procedure [beak-trim] nine times.

The following have been part of the medical team providing care for the eagle:

  • Four Wildlife Center staff veterinarians -- Drs. Dave McRuer, Elizabeth Daut, Natalie Hall, and Mark Ruder;
  • Wildlife Center Licensed Veterinary Technicians Leigh-Ann Horne and Dana Calhoun;
  • Wildlife Center rehabilitators Amanda Nicholson, Suzanne Doell, Tracy Marshall, and Dani Stumbo;
  • Dr. R. Avery Bennett, Professor of Veterinary Clinical Medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who flew to Virginia to lead the team that operated on #08-887;
  • Five international veterinarians who were studying at the Wildlife Center, including vets from Canada [two], Mexico, Spain, and Turkey; and
  • Fifteen students studying at the Wildlife Center, including two vet-tech students [from Colorado and Pennsylvania]; a rehabiliation student from Canada; and a dozen fourth-year veterinary students, from Alabama, California [four], Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, Washington,  and from Colombia and Mexico [two].

While #08-887 has been at the Wildlife Center for more than 300 days, he is not the patient with the longest "tenure" here. That distinction currently goes to #08-0086, an Eastern Box Turtle from Greene County,  admitted in February 2008. The turtle's hibernation was disturbed when it was dug up, and chewed on, by a dog.  The turtle's shell, although extensively damaged, has now nearly healed, and the Center hopes to release the turtle back to the wild within a few weeks.