“It’s hard enough to lose any animal, but to lose an eagle rips your heart out,” said Louise Sagaert, director and wildlife rehabilitator at Wildside Rehabilitation and Education Center in Eaton Rapids.
Recently Sagaert experienced this very situation, losing Grant, a bald eagle rescued in Montcalm County, to lead poisoning.
Grant’s lead level was 11,000 ppb (parts per billion). He received four days of treatment and was showing signs of improvement, but eventually succumbed to the lead poisoning.
An estimated 20 million animals die each year from lead poisoning, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Wildside is the only facility in this area that is currently able to help raptors. Fourteen eagles have been brought to Wildside since January 2020. At least half of them have had lead poisoning; the rest suffer from injuries due to accidents.
Signs of lead poisoning in eagles include the inability to fly, appearing dizzy or unstable, showing little fear of humans, and difficulty breathing and swallowing. A bird with this condition will not survive without prompt medical care.
Research shows that spent lead ammunition and lost fishing tackle are the most frequent sources of lead poisoning in animals. The lead is ingested when fishing lures or contaminated carcasses, left by hunters, are ingested by a bird. If consumed, a fragment of lead the size of a grain of rice is fatal to an eagle. Lead is extremely dangerous to humans, as well.
The use of non-toxic bullets and shotgun pellets can help eliminate lead consumption for game animals. Lead has been banned in gasoline and in paint, but not in bullets or pellets.
Grant is the third eagle with lead poisoning that has been brought to Wildside recently. The other two, Washington, from Oceana County, and Roosevelt, rescued in Allegan County, are still not eating on their own and are occasionally regurgitating, a sure sign of lead poisoning.
“Roosevelt still isn’t standing,” Sagaert said. “If he can’t stand, he can’t survive in the wild.
“The immediate diagnosis of lead poisoning and then speedy treatment is imperative to the survival of these birds,” Sagaert said. They are currently raising funds to purchase a Lead Care II machine, a diagnostic option to speed treatment. This machine will enable instant lead levels; currently it is a three to five day wait for the results from a lab.
If lead poisoning is diagnosed, the birds are then treated with a medication that binds with the lead and removes it from the bones and blood.
Jesse Pline, an environmental science student from Western Michigan University, volunteers at Wildside and was assigned the capture of Roosevelt and Washingon, the other eagles with lead poisoning. The poisoned birds were on the ground, flapping, and “out of it,” said Pline, who was able to capture the two birds by gently throwing a towel over them. “Roosevelt was a bit feisty and did try to bite,” he commented, “even though he was lying flat on the ground when I found him.”
Veterinarian Jamie Snow, of Snow Animal Clinic in Eaton Rapids, said “Wildside provides a vitally needed service for wildlife care and rehabilitation, especially for Bald Eagles.”
If you would like more information about Wildside, or would like to contribute to their fundraising for the Lead Care II machine, call 517-663-6153 or visit their blog at wildsidemi.wordpress.com. There is also a wish list on their blog.
Wildside is a 501(c)3 non-profit and accepts PayPal, Venmo, Cash App, and Facebook donations, as well as having a donation button on the WordPress site. Checks can be mailed to Wildside, 8601 Houston Road, Eaton Rapids, MI 48827.