Bald Eagle #23-0147

February 28, 2023
Rescue Location
Chesterfield County, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Unable to fly, possible fight with another eagle
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On February 27, a private citizen observed a Bald Eagle on the ground and unable to fly near the side of a busy road in Chesterfield County. Wildlife Center Front Desk staff coordinated with permitted rehabilitators at Tidewater Wildlife Rescue to locate and rescue the eagle, which was transported to the Center the following morning.

The eagle was bright, alert, and active upon admission. A physical examination performed by Veterinary Intern Dr. Olivia revealed that the eagle, an adult female, was moderately dehydrated, underweight, and infested with external parasites (lice). Multiple superficial wounds were found, including three small wounds on her left patagium, abrasions and significant bruising over the left elbow, a puncture wound over the right stifle, and bruising over the right side of her face.

No musculoskeletal abnormalities were noted, an ocular exam was normal, and radiographs did not reveal any internal trauma. Bloodwork and in-house testing showed that the eagle had a .084 ppm level of lead in her system – a subclinical amount, but still requiring treatment. The exact cause of her wounds are not known, but Dr. Olivia suspects a fight with another Bald Eagle is the most likely circumstance of injury.

Veterinary staff cleaned and bandaged her wounds, administered fluids, pain medication, and antibiotics, applied medicated spray to combat the lice, began chelation therapy to eliminate the lead from the her system, and placed her in the Center’s indoor Hold area. On March 3, veterinary staff anesthetized and surgically debrided all of the eagle’s wounds to healthy, bleeding edges, and sutured her patagial and stifle wounds closed.

During the past four days, the bird has remained in Hold between treatments with the veterinary team. The prognosis for this eagle is currently fair to guarded, as her injuries are fairly minor and lead levels are relatively low. To reduce and minimize stress levels, staff plan to begin acclimating her to an outdoor enclosure during the coming week.

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Patient Updates

During the past month, Bald Eagle #23-0147 was showing mild improvement during daily exercise sessions, completing between 10-15 passes of flight pen A3. Recently, however, rehabilitation staff began to observe a significant right wing droop during and after flight conditioning. On April 17, radiographs were performed by Dr. Olivia, revealing severe arthritis in the right carpal joint. Veterinary staff suspect this is likely the result of joint trauma that occurred at the time of the eagle’s initial injury and admission; this delicate injury was not visible on radiographs taken during the eagle’s intake exam. With only about 50% of the normal range of motion remaining in the carpal joint, poor flight capability, and chronic pain that would not be possible to manage in the wild, the veterinary staff made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Bald Eagle #23-0147 on April 17.

On March 17, Bald Eagle #23-0147 was cleared by the veterinary staff to begin flight conditioning, and was transitioned to the Center’s A3 flight pen that same day. The rehabilitation team began a daily exercise regimen on March 22, and report that the eagle is able to complete five to ten passes from perch to perch before reaching exhaustion. Veterinary staff will examine her feet and feathers, and perform carpal bumper bandage changes once per week during the coming months. Once the bird is able to complete at least 15 passes during exercise sessions and display proper form during flight, staff will re-evaluate the possibility of her release.

During the past week and a half, Bald Eagle #23-0147 has been recovering well. Her wounds have continued to heal, and the sutures applied to her left patagium have remained intact. On March 9, the veterinary team found the sutures over her right stifle had separated, but after resuturing the wound, the staff determined that the eagle was ready to be transitioned to a small outdoor enclosure. Daily care, feeding, and observation duties were transferred to the rehabilitation staff that same day, as the eagle was no longer in need of regularly administered medications. The eagle has been eating well since moving outdoors and is consistently consuming all of the fish and rat offered to her each day. During the coming days, rehabilitation staff plan to move her to the Center’s A3 flight pen and asses her readiness to begin exercising.