LEBANON, Pa. (AP) — A severely injured bald eagle that was found in Lebanon County recently faces an uncertain future as it recovers at a Schuylkill County wildlife center.
The eagle, a 5-year-old male, was found by a resident in Cornwall’s Spring Hill Acres development on Dec. 11. It had a severely broken right leg and about 100 puncture wounds to its face, legs, and body — possibly from another eagle that attacked it.
State Game Commission wildlife conservation officer Brian Sheetz, who responded to the scene, said the bird was in bad shape when he got to it.
“It couldn’t fly, it couldn’t walk,” Sheetz said. “It basically was using its wings to hop around.”
Sheetz said he initially thought the eagle had been shot because of all the puncture wounds.
The eagle, which weighs about 8 pounds and has a 6-foot wingspan, was taken to the Radnor Veterinary Hospital in Wayne where Dr. Len Donato placed a pin in the bird’s leg.
But the broken leg and puncture wounds were just the beginning of the bird’s problems.
It was eventually determined that the bird had acute lead poisoning, said Peggy Hentz, founder of Red Creek Wildlife Center in Schuylkill Haven, where the eagle is now recovering. Hentz said the bird’s blood contained so much lead that it maxed out the center’s testing machine.
“His lead count came back so high that our machine couldn’t measure it,” she said.
Hentz believes the eagle got lead poisoning from eating either a fish that had swallowed a lead sinker or an animal that had been peppered with shotgun pellets.
“A lot of people falsely assume that if a bird gets shot, it gets lead poisoning,” Hentz said. “An animal needs to ingest the lead for it to get lead poisoning.”
The lead levels have gradually come down thanks to medication, Hentz said.
“We’re doing another lead test (Saturday), but it looks really good,” she said. “The last test it was really reduced.”
Most of the puncture wounds have also healed, Hentz said.
The leg, however, continues to be a problem. Hentz said it is too early to tell if the leg will fully heal. The break occurred at a joint, and there are complications with soft-tissue damage, she said.
If the leg does not fully heal, Hentz said, the bird might not be released into the wild.
“Because these are birds of prey, they use both their feet to hunt,” she said. “He not only needs strong bones, but he needs them to work well. If he has full use of that foot and it heals fully, absolutely (we would release him).That’s what I’d like to see.”
Hentz took the eagle back to Radnor on Friday for a checkup and to have its leg X-rayed again. She said Donato was happy with how it looked.
“I was a little worried about its leg,” Hentz said. “It’s a little better than I thought, but it’s still early in the game.”
If the eagle can’t be released, it could be trained to be an education bird or used as a foster for young eagles, Hentz said.
“That would depend on the eagle and the quality of life he has,” she said. “That’s pretty far off in the future. We’ll give him as long as he needs.”
Bald eagles apparently are becoming more common in Lebanon County, Sheetz said. There are two known nesting pairs of bald eagles that have nests in the county with the possibility of a third, he said.
Information from: Lebanon Daily News, http://www.ldnews.com