WASHINGTON – The animal experts could tell there was something off with the adult bald eagle as soon as it was brought in to City Wildlife, a rehabilitation center in Northwest Washington.
The bird wasn’t flying and wasn’t using its legs properly.
And it was feisty.
All possible signs, experts said, pointed to lead poisoning, and a blood test confirmed that the eagle had high levels of lead, according to Paula Goldberg, executive director of City Wildlife.
She said the eagle was brought to her group Tuesday by a Maryland Natural Resource officer who found it in Nanjemoy, in Southern Maryland. She said the bird was found in some woods, sitting on its haunches, about 100 feet from a road.
“There was clearly something wrong with it,” Goldberg said. Wildlife veterinarians at City Wildlife examined the bird. Goldberg said it is not uncommon for bald eagles to have elevated levels of lead.
Raptors are susceptible to lead poisoning because they often eat dead animals that have been hunted with ammunition that contains lead. Goldberg said, for example, that if a bald eagle eats a deer that has been shot with lead ammunition instead of cooper bullets, the lead stays in the deer’s body and then it is digested when an eagle eats the deer.
Goldberg said her staff believes that’s likely what happened to this bald eagle.
In California, politicians signed a ban on lead in hunting ammunition.
Goldberg said she does not think the eagle is going to die, and her staff is transferring it to a wildlife refuge center in the mid-Atlantic region for further medical care and a recovery period. She would not say where the eagle was being taken out of concerns the center has for its safety.
City Wildlife said this is the third bald eagle that the rescue operation has taken in since this summer and the only one with lead poisoning.
Raptors suffering from lead poisoning can suffer muscle and central nervous system weakness and damage, experts said. In 2012, a bald eagle died after it was found in Prince William County, Virginia, and officials said its death was likely a result of chronic lead poisoning.