On October 27, an adult Bald Eagle -- designated as patient #23-3749 -- was admitted to the Wildlife Center of Virginia from Lancaster County after being found on the ground unable to fly. The veterinary and rehabilitation staff regularly anticipate caring for dozens of Bald Eagles each year, but this specific individual represented an incredible milestone in the Center’s history: its arrival marked the highest number of Bald Eagles admitted during a single year since the Center’s founding in 1982.
Bald Eagle #23-3749 was the 56th eagle admitted during 2023, but not the last. As of November 14, five additional eagles have been added to the Center’s caseload.
While the previous record has been definitively surpassed, comparatively high numbers of eagles have been cared for during recent years as well. From 2018 to 2022, an average of 46 Bald Eagles have received treatment at the Center per year.
Where are they coming from, how are they becoming injured, and why are there more this year than ever before in the Center’s history?
Like many conservation and environmental issues that are related to wildlife, there is no single answer to these questions. Instead, it’s likely a combination of many factors and events taking place on a large scale. Thanks to the Center’s digital patient record keeping system WILD-One, though, certain data is readily available.
Where are they coming from? Thus far, during 2023 the Center has admitted at least one Bald Eagle from each region of the Commonwealth with the exception of Southwest Virginia. Some of these eagles were transported to the Wildlife Center of Virginia directly from their location of rescue, while others may have received stabilizing care at other permitted wildlife hospitals before being transferred to the Center.
Why are they being admitted to the Center? During the past 40 years, the Center has admitted hundreds of Bald Eagles. Some of those eagles, including those admitted during 2023, had been hit by vehicles or had sustained physical injuries from territorial disputes with other eagles. Others were juveniles failing to thrive on their own, or young eaglets discovered after storms destroyed their nests. Some eagle patients had been suffering from the devastating effects of lead toxicosis.
What has caused a record-breaking number of Bald Eagles to be admitted during 2023? There is no single answer to this question, but trends in wildlife and environmental conservation can provide valuable insight.
Statistically, 2023’s increase in Bald Eagle cases is in part a reflection of the resurgence of the Bald Eagle population in Virginia – one of the great success stories of the conservation movement. According to the Center for Conservation Biology, in 1970 there were only about 20 pairs of nesting eagles in Virginia. By 2007, that population had climbed to 500 pairs. In 2016, for the first time, the CCB survey found more than 1,000 active Bald Eagle nests, and by 2021 that number had climbed to more than 1,500.
As Bald Eagle populations have grown in size, so has the level of competition for limited resources between individuals – including food, shelter, and territory. Eagles residing throughout their historical coastal ranges primarily hunt and eat fish, but eagles that have been pushed inland have a diet that includes larger amounts of carrion (the remains of dead animals), leading many to become exposed to dangerous – if not lethal – levels of lead in the form of lead-based hunting ammunition. To read more about lead toxicosis in Bald Eagles and other raptors, and ways to help, click here.
No matter how many Bald Eagles are admitted to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in a given year, each and every individual is treated with the same level of expertise and dedication by our staff with the same goal in mind: release back into the wild.
As a non-profit organization, the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s life-saving work in caring for Bald Eagles – and thousands of other native species – would not be possible without the generosity and support of our donors. Thank you!