The Wildlife Center of Virginia recently admitted its 43rd Bald Eagle patient of the year – setting an all-time record for single-year admissions. [The old record – 42 Bald Eagles – was set in 2012.]
Among the eagles admitted during 2017 were eagles that had been struck by cars … eagles injured in fights with other eagles … eagles that had been shot … and a number of eagles suffering from lead toxicity. Twenty-nine of the 43 eagles admitted -- nearly 70% -- had measurable amounts of lead in their blood; six of these eagles had lead levels that were too high for the Center's in-house lead analyzer to measure.
A significant source of lead poisoning in Bald Eagles and other scavenging birds of prey is from ingesting small fragments of lead ammunition that are embedded in unrecovered game or the entrails of game animals [like deer]. When a harvested deer is “field dressed” -- the practice of removing the internal organs from animals harvested for human consumption – the gut piles that are left behind on the ground can contain extremely small fragments of lead ammunition. Lead is most toxic when consumed by an animal, as opposed to lead bullets or shot simply lodging in muscle tissue. Exposure to digestive fluids and stomach acids breaks down the lead, allowing it to be absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed to internal organs, the nervous system, the respiratory system, and the renal system. Read more about lead toxicity in raptors here.
Historically, Bald Eagle populations were centered around the Chesapeake Bay and the lower reaches of the James, Potomac, and Rappahannock Rivers. In recent years, with the resurgence of the Bald Eagle population, eagles have spread out into other areas of the state. That is reflected in 2017 admissions; thus far in 2017, the Center has admitted eagles from Albemarle, Alleghany, Carroll, Franklin, Greene [two eagles], Louisa, and Orange Counties and the City of Buena Vista.
Wildlife Center Bald Eagle admissions during the past 10 years:
2017 43 [through October 25th]