Bald Eagle #20-0055

January 25, 2020
April 19, 2020
Rescue Location
Accomack County, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Lead toxicity
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On January 24, an adult Bald Eagle reportedly “fell from the sky” and crash-landed in Accomack County. The eagle was taken to a local permitted wildlife rehabilitator for care before it was transferred to the Wildlife Center the following day.

Dr. Karra, the Center’s senior veterinary intern, examined the eagle as it arrived. The bird was slumped in the transport crate, exhibiting neurologic symptoms. Dr. Karra suspected lead toxicity and immediately drew blood for an in-house lead analysis. Results came back as “high”, indicating a level of lead in the bird’s body that was too high for the Center’s lead analyzer to read. The veterinary team performed several dilutions of the eagle’s blood and finally were able to obtain a reading of 8.7 ppm – a significantly high level of lead.

During the eagle’s physical examination, Dr. Karra found an old injury on the bird’s right eye; otherwise, no additional injuries were found. The eagle had an increased respiratory effort when being handled. A quick series of radiographs were taken to check for any evidence of lead in the bird’s gastrointestinal tract; none were found. Dr. Karra placed an intravenous catheter for IV fluids and started treatment for lead toxicity.

The veterinary team were surprised to find that the eagle survived the following day – though the bird has been exhibiting obvious neurologic signs due to the lead poisoning. While it’s encouraging that the eagle survived the first 48 hours of treatment, prognosis is still grave, given that eagles affected by lead can have permanent neurological deficits, as well as cardiac damage which can prevent release.

Your donation will help provide veterinary medical care to this poisoned Bald Eagle — and will help more than 3,000 other wild animals in need in 2020. Thank you! 

Patient Updates

During the past few weeks, Bald Eagle #20-0055 has been exercising in flight pen A1, and building stamina and conditioning each day. The staff have been thrilled that this Bald Eagle, admitted with severe lead toxicosis, has made a complete recovery. After additional assessment and discussion last week, the staff decided the eagle was ready to return to the wild.

While eagle releases are often public events for the Wildlife Center, the current COVID-19 pandemic makes hosting a group eagle release impossible. Instead, Dr. Karra — the veterinarian who worked so hard to save this eagle — is driving the eagle back to its original rescue location for release on Sunday, April 19. Dr. Karra will attempt to stream the release on Facebook LIVE so that others may still participate while maintaining physical distancing; if all goes well, we hope to see and hear a successful report in the mid-afternoon, at roughly 2:00 p.m.

2:13 p.m. update

Success! Dr. Karra was able to meet up with the original rescuers and went to the large field where the eagle was first rescued in January 2020. It was a beautiful release!

Bald Eagle Release in the News

After multiple courses of treatment for lead toxicity, an additional lead test performed in early April finally confirmed that Bald Eagle #20-0055 was "low" for lead. The rehabilitation staff started the eagle on a formal exercise program, and are aiming to observe the eagle fly up to five passes in the A1 flight pen each day. The eagle currently has good height and lift, though lacks stamina. The eagle has been hospitalized since January, and the staff hope that the bird can regain stamina; it’s important to note that severe lead toxicity can have permanent long-term effects, including cardiac damage, which would affect a bird’s stamina.

Bald Eagle #20-0055 continues to slowly recover from its severe lead intoxication. The eagle is maneuvering fairly well in its flight enclosure, and the rehabilitation staff recently discovered that the eagle has a strong preference for eating chicks. An additional lead test on March 22 revealed a lead level of 0.06 ppm; the veterinary staff would like to continue to treat the bird until levels are "low", though the eagle will need a break from treatment to avoid overwhelming its kidneys.

The staff recently found that the eagle has lacerations on both feet; it’s likely that the eagle tried to perch on something inappropriate in its A1 flight enclosure. The eagle was moved to the Cpens for several days while the veterinary staff started foot treatments and the rehabilitation staff checked for any issues within the flight pen. As of March 24, the veterinary team decided that the eagle could move back to the A1 flight enclosure; they will continue to treat the bird’s feet and monitor its neurologic symptoms and movement.

On March 3, Bald Eagle #20-0055 was moved to flight pen A1 so that the staff could better observe how the bird moves in a larger space. The eagle has had a noted head tilt since its admission; this may be a permanent neurological deficit due to the severe lead poisoning. The eagle is able to fly the length of the flight enclosure, though doesn’t land on perches well at this point.

The eagle still has trace amounts of lead in its blood, so the veterinary team will schedule another round of oral chelation therapy.

Bald Eagle #20-0055 has been spending all of its time outdoors during the past week. The staff had hoped that the more natural setting of an outdoor enclosure would help improve the patient’s healing process and allow the bird to be more comfortable. The eagle still has a noted head tilt, but is receiving physical therapy to remedy this. Blood samples continue to be taken at regular intervals to monitor lead levels.

Another lead test was performed on February 4; results came back at 0.155 ppm – a much reduced result compared to the level at the eagle’s admission at the end of January. The vet staff started another round of chelation therapy [both injectable and oral] to further reduce the lead in the bird’s system. On February 10, a lead test was performed with a result of 0.05 ppm. The vet staff decided to continue just the oral chelation medication for the next five days.

The eagle is intermittently eating and is still displaying a head tilt, though the staff hope that by getting the bird into a larger space, perhaps it will have the opportunity to move around more and exhibit normal behaviors and posture. The eagle will be acclimated to an outdoor pen for the next few days; the staff will move the bird outside during the day and inside at night until the oral chelation therapy is complete.

In the week following his admission, Bald Eagle #20-0055 made some slight improvements after receiving his first round of chelation therapy and intravenous fluids. On January 31, the eagle was bright and hydrated enough to discontinue the IV fluids, though the veterinarians also noted a significant right-sided head tilt which persists.

The eagle will have another lead test on February 4, which will determine if a second round of chelation therapy is needed. The eagle is intermittently eating on his own, though some days requires hand-feeding a portion of his meal.