An injured bald eagle rescued in Peachland is on its way to recovery.
Greg Walmsley, the assistant manager at Pee Dee Wildlife Refuge, rescued a mature bald eagle on May 20. Two phone calls from concerned citizens who had seen it on the roadside prompted Walmsley to rescue the bird.
Walmsley found the injured eagle near the intersection of Plank Road and Deep Springs Church Road in Peachland. “After I captured the eagle, refuge volunteers Sally and Jerome Varick transported it to the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C.,” Walmsley said via email. “There it was determined that the eagle was missing its right eye, and was suffering from lead poisoning. The right eye was an old injury that he had survived with for some time.”
Although it is impossible to know the cause of the lead poisoning, Walmsley speculated that the bird may have eaten something that had been shot, or a fish that had swallowed a lead weight.
Michele Miller Houck, the associate executive director with the raptor center, agreed. “Eagles are scavengers and will eat almost anything,” she said. “Sometimes — I'm not saying this is what happened — but sometimes hunters will leave carcasses in the woods after taking what they want, and eagles will scavenge. It doesn't take that much lead to make an eagle sick. They wouldn't have to swallow the whole pellet, but they do. A little bit of lead goes a long way.”
Houk said that despite the eagle's high levels of lead, it is on the road to recovery. “It's lead level was 38; 20 is considered toxic,” she said. “Many birds that come in are over 65, which is considered 'unreadable,' so this is bad, but not hideously bad. It went down to 11 after its first treatment. We put it in a flight cage, and it normally takes some number of weeks to get the lead down.”
Houck said that the eagle fascinates center workers because of its relatively good condition. “Usually, eagles and hawks with binocular vision can't really survive with one eye,” she said. “So we're really interested in this bird, since it's been surviving just fine, besides the lead poisoning. Sight is their number one sense to hunt. Other birds use scent or speed to hunt, or sound, but hawks and eagles really depend on their eyesight.”
The center may continue to monitor the bird following its release. “We don't normally release birds with one eye, since we just don't think it works for them,” Houck said. “But with this one, we plan to take it back to where we found it, because we think it might be part of a mated pair. We're even talking about putting a transmitter on it.”
The center normally has between 75 and 150 birds in treatment at any given time, and sees between 900 and 1,000 birds a year. It just released its 18,000th patient since the center opened in 1981. Caring for the birds is expensive— it its 22 days at the center, the eagle's medical bills are already over $1,000. The costs are based on what a veterinarian would be paid for the care, but many of the costs are covered by donations. To donate for the eagle's care, search for case number 17946 at http://raptormed.carolinaraptorcenter.org.