Bald Eagle #15-2015 [BP91]

September 10, 2015
December 22, 2015
Cause of Admission/Condition
Suspected Toxcity
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On September 10, a hatch-year Bald Eagle was found nearly comatose and was brought to veterinarians at Companion Animal Clinic of Blacksburg for immediate care. The veterinarian stabilized the bird; the eagle stopped breathing and required manual ventilation. The eagle was transferred that evening to the Wildlife Center and was admitted as patient #15-2015.

Upon admission, the eagle was very weak, extremely depressed, and presented with neurologic symptoms. The eagle was unable to stand in its crate and was not alert.

Prior to arrival, the eagle had regurgitated a large amount, and veterinary intern Dr. Dana Franzen suspected that the bird aspirated. Dr. Dana started the bird on a course of antibiotics to prevent infection from aspiration pneumonia. The eagle had an abrasion along the keel, likely from lying in on its chest.

Blood was drawn to test for toxins and signs of infection. Blood work was largely unremarkable, but staff will repeat blood work once the bird is well-hydrated.

Radiographs revealed that the eagle had also ingested a very large fish hook, though the fish hook is likely not the cause of any of the eagle’s other symptoms. The fish hook appears to be static and lodged in the eagle’s ventriculus, and the hook has minimal risk of perforation at this time. The eagle will be offered soft food with no bones to prevent the food items from shifting the hook.

The vet staff is keeping a close eye on the eagle’s attitude and neurologic status; the vet staff will continue to give the eagle subcutaneous fluids to assist with hydration and help with the metabolism of possible toxins.

On September 11, Dr. Dana reported that the eagle was standing in its crate and showed signs of neurologic improvement. At this time, the eagle has a guarded prognosis; if the eagle can be stabilized during the weekend, then vet staff will schedule surgery next week to remove the fish hook in the eagle’s ventriculus.

Your special donation will help the Center to provide care to this Bald Eagle …and to the 2,600 sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals the Center will treat this year.

Patient Updates

Bald Eagles #15-2015 [BP91] and #15-2090 [BP39] were successfully released today at Berkeley Plantation in front of a crowd of more than 200 people. Wildlife Center veterinary intern Dr. Dana had the honor of releasing Bald Eagle #15-2015. Dr. Dana tossed the bird into the air, and the young eagle flew up to a nearby tree and perched on a branch to take in her surroundings. Wildlife Center President Ed Clark released #15-2090 who flew to the exact same tree branch! Both birds then flew off, out of sight.

Double Bald Eagle Release December 2015

On December 14, Dr. Dave banded Bald Eagle #15-2015 and also placed a GPS transmitter on the bird. The young eagle, along with Bald Eagle #15-2090, was returned to flight pen A3 for additional exercise so that each bird could adjust to wearing the transmitter. Both birds continued to fly very well during the past week and are ready for their December 22 release.

Both birds will be a part of an ongoing research study that will monitor eagle movements. This study looks at the data received from these tracked Bald Eagles to determine the range and behavior of Bald Eagles in Virginia’s coastal plain. Migratory behavior is studied as biologists are able to see how far Bald Eagles move in the winter season, and the data will play an important role in modeling how these birds use airspace. By looking at heights at which the eagles fly, average distances, and other specifics, biologists are able to relate this eagle behavior to real-life issues, such as airstrike data.

For the Wildlife Center, this is a fantastic opportunity for additional post-release studies of our rehabilitated raptors. There have been very few studies done in this area. The Wildlife Center will be able to see and share GPS data; Bald Eagle #15-2015 will be added to the Eagle Tracking page on our website.

Each transmitter has a five-digit number written on the side of it in permanent black marker so that the eagle can possibly be identified at a distance. Bald Eagle #15-2015 will now be known as BP91. “BP” represents Berkley Plantation, where the eagle will be released, and “91” are the last two digits on the transmitter that the eagle is wearing.

For the past two weeks, Bald Eagles #15-2090 and #15-2015 have both been flying well in a large eagle flight pen. The birds are strong fliers, and are able to maintain height and stamina. On Monday, December 14, the veterinary team drew blood on both birds for a pre-release analysis. Results came back within normal limits. Bald Eagle #15-2015 was cleared for release; Bald Eagle #15-2090 should be cleared for release this week after several broken flight feathers on her right wing have been imped [replaced].

If possible, Dr. Dave hopes to fit one or both birds with GPS transmitters prior to their release; the Wildlife Center needs to acquire additional materials for the transmitter fittings.

The eagles will be released together on Tuesday, December 22 at 12 noon at Berkeley Plantation at Taps Field. Wildlife Center President Ed Clark will release both birds. The release is open to the public; those planning on attending are asked to RSVP to

Berkeley Plantation is offering a 10% discount on Christmas tours to eagle release attendees.

Please visit the Berkeley Plantation website for directions. Alternatively, use Google/MapQuest to obtain the best directions from your location to the Berkeley address:

12602 Harrison Landing Road
Charles City, Virginia 23030

There is a directional sign at the front of Berkeley Plantation’s driveway. Rather than taking a slight right onto Harrison Landing (which leads to the main Berkeley Plantation mansion), bear left toward Westover Plantation. Take an immediate right (look for the “eagle release” sign) onto a gravel driveway [if you pass the sign that notes that Westover Plantation is two miles ahead, you have missed the turn to Berkeley].

Follow the gravel road straight back for 1.1 miles. The parking lot will be on your right.

During the past two weeks, Bald Eagle #15-2015 has shown further improvement during daily exercise. The eagle is now consistently making 15 passes end-to-end in the large flight pen [A1] and will need to maintain this optimum level for at least one week before the staff can consider releasing the bird.

On October 25, the veterinary staff caught up Bald Eagle #15-2015 to replace its carpal bumpers. While the staff was replacing the bumpers, a small left carpal wound was found as well as a small superficial abrasion near the eagle’s right eye. Both wounds were cleaned and covered with an antibiotic ointment and a bandage was placed over the carpal injury before replacing the bumper. Bald Eagle #15-2015 was then cleared to continue daily exercise.

After a week of exercise, the staff rechecked the eagle’s bumpers and wounds. The abrasion of the eagle’s eye was quiet and healing well, however there was increased swelling in the bird’s left carpal. Flight conditioning was suspended for five days to allow for the swelling to subside.

Five days later, the swelling in Bald Eagle’s carpal had resolved, and the bird was cleared to resume exercise. On November 5, Bald Eagle #15-2090 joined Bald Eagle #15-2015 in flight pen A1. Both birds are consistently flying eight to ten passes end-to-end in the flight pen and will continue with daily exercise in the coming weeks.

The staff has been monitoring Bald Eagle #15-2015 following suture removal from the surgical site. The site has been healing well and the eagle has had a strong appetite.

By October 9, the vet veterinary staff cleared the eagle to begin flight conditioning. The rehabilitation staff exercises the eagle daily; the bird averages eight passes end-to-end in the flight pen each day. The eagle has not yet reached the optimal level of exercise – 15 passes end-to-end – and needs to build increased stamina.

The rehabilitation staff moved Bald Eagle #15-2015 to an adjacent flight pen [A1] on October 22 and will continue to exercise the bird daily.


During the last week, the rehabilitation staff noted substantial improvement in Bald Eagle #15-2015’s appetite. The bird is now consistently eating all of its offered meal of fish and rat and is bright, alert, and feisty. On September 28, the sutures on the bird’s abdomen were removed and Bald Eagle #15-2015 was moved into a larger flight pen [A2] with Bald Eagle #15-1922. The staff will continue to monitor the eagle for any changes in appetite and condition in the upcoming weeks.

Bald Eagle #15-2015 spent the past week in a crate in the Center’s outdoor metal cage complex. The eagle has been bright and alert with clear lung sounds. The bird is still not eating regularly, and veterinary staff has continued hand-feeding the eagle as needed.

On September 19, veterinary staff discontinued bandaging the abdominal incision and keel abrasion. The eagle has been very active and feisty in the crate; after examining the eagle’s incision, Dr. Dana determined that the bird should be moved to a larger outdoor enclosure to prevent the bird from causing further injury in a small space. The eagle was moved to outdoor enclosure C1 on September 23.

The vet staff hopes to see improvement in the bird’s appetite in the larger space. The staff will also have to keep a close on this eagle in the outdoor enclosure to ensure the sutures are not disturbed with increased activity. Suture removal is scheduled for September 28.

Bald Eagle #15-2015 continues to recover after Monday’s surgery. Each day, either Dr. Helen or Dr. Dana has checked the wound to ensure the incision site is clean and healing. The young bird is feisty, but is not eating on its own; the staff have had to hand-feed the bird to ensure it receives enough nutrition and to keep everything moving through its digestive tract.

On September 17, Hospital Cam viewers were able to see the veterinary team check the bird’s wounds and change the eagle’s protective tail guard. The eagle was then moved to a crate in the Center’s outdoor metal cage complex to see if the change in environment would stimulate the bird’s appetite. The eagle ate a small amount of food on its own; the staff will continue to hand-feed as needed.


On September 14, Bald Eagle #15-2015 was scheduled for a ventriculotomy – surgery to remove the large fish hook from the ventriculus (gizzard). The eagle was anesthetized, and the veterinary team took a quick set of radiographs just prior to surgery to check on the location of the hook. The team then prepped the eagle for surgery by plucking a small line of body feathers from the area where the incision would be made into the bird’s abdomen.

In the Center’s operating room, Dr. Dana, assisted by Dr. Helen, performed a partial abdominal exploration, and noted that the eagle’s small intestines, spleen, air sacs, and liver all appeared normal. The veterinarians had a difficult time locating the bird’s ventriculus, as it was obscured by a fair amount of intra-abdominal fat. Dr. Dave was called in the operating room to attempt to locate the ventriculus, and as the three veterinarians continued to search, the power at the Wildlife Center went out.


Within minutes, flashlights were collected and given to the students who were observing surgery. Lit by five small flashlights and small battery-powered emergency lights, the vets continued the abdominal exploration on the eagle. Fortunately, the most important piece of equipment – the anesthesia machine – is not dependent on electricity, so the bird remained stable and asleep. Amy, the Center’s veterinary technician, monitored the patient without the aid of the electronic equipment.

When the ventriculus still couldn’t be found, a red rubber feeding-tube was inserted into the eagle’s mouth and down its esophagus to help guide the team. In the dimly lit room, Dr. Dave was able to locate the ventriculus, which Dr. Dana then retracted from the eagle’s abdominal cavity. Dr. Dana made an incision in the muscular organ, and Dr. Helen was able to remove the fish hook with forceps.

Dr. Dana sutured the ventriculus closed in two layers, prior to suturing the incision made into the eagle’s abdomen. When she was about a third of the way done, the power came back on.

The bird recovered from surgery quickly and without complications. During the next few days, the team will closely monitor the young eagle for any issues. The eagle will receive fluids, anti-inflammatories, and pain medications and will be slowly introduced to whole food.