HARVEY – The Chocolay Raptor Center tried in vain to help nurse a sick bald eagle back to health, but there’s a larger issue here.
The center, based in Harvey, keeps a red-tailed hawk, peregrine falcon, great horned owl and American kestrel as permanent residents to educate the public about the importance of raptors. However, co-founders Jerry Maynard and Bob Jensen also take in injured raptors so they can hopefully be released back into the wild.
Thursday they took in a large and unusual bird: a bald eagle they believed was suffering from lead poisoning. Saturday morning, unfortunately, it died, with lab results confirming the center’s suspicion.
Ingested lead pellets from shotgun shells have been a common source of lead poisoning in birds, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Center. Other sources include mine wastes, paint chips, lead fishing sinkers, bullets and other swallowed lead objects.
“Some folks who live on M-94 just east U.S. 41, their kids were out in the morning and spotted it down,” Maynard said. “And they approached it, and it spread its wings, but it didn’t fly away, and they thought that was pretty weird, so they went and told their parents who went and checked it out.”
The people, he said, knew if a bird holds its head down, that’s not a good sign, so eventually the Raptor Center was called.
Maynard said he and Jensen could tell the bird was very weak and emaciated, had tremors and was unable to fly. The white tail feathers were stained with green feces, a sign of liver failure from starvation.
“Basically the classic symptoms of lead poisoning,” Maynard said.
The eagle was examined by Dr. Jean Wilcox of the Gwinn-Sawyer Veterinary Clinic, who after looking at the bird at the clinic also suspected it was suffering from lead poisoning. A blood sample was to be sent to Antigo, Wisconsin, Maynard said.
Maynard believes the eagle ingested the lead from gut piles.
“Hunters, during deer season, field dress, and the guts will have lead from being shot,” he said.
Neither Maynard nor Jensen has the permits needed to care for an eagle – although they have them to care for other raptors – so the bird, which they believe is a male, was to be transported to a rehabilitation center, Wings of Wonder in Traverse City, for further care. However, they discovered the eagle died Saturday morning. Maynard said the carcass probably will shipped to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Disease Lab in Lansing.
The two at first were feeding the eagle an easily digested, nutrient-based liquid formula, with the possibility of rats being given later.
A bald eagle is not the easiest bird to care for, considering its large beak and strong, sharp talons.
“It takes two of us,” Jensen said.
Less difficult to nurture is a tiny saw-whet owl the center received from Newberry Dec. 4.
“Somebody spotted him along M-28,” Jensen said. “Just this little, tiny blob.”
It’s likely the saw-whet owl will become a permanent resident of the Raptor Center. Jensen noted Wilcox said the bird, which has an injured left eye, probably can’t be released back into the wild.
However, the two want the public to know about the dangers of lead poisoning in birds. They shared a fact sheet from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which pointed out how hunters can voluntarily reduce lead poisoning:
- Select only nontoxic shot for all small game shotgun hunting. Lead shot already is prohibited for waterfowl hunting but optional for other small game.
- Choose nontoxic slugs or bullets for deer hunting. If lead ammunition is used, recover and remove all shot game from the field.
- Hide gut piles and remains of butchered carcasses by burying or covering them with rocks and/or brush.
- Remove slugs, bullets or fragments and surrounding flesh from any carcass remains left in the field.
A post on the Chocolay Raptor Center Facebook page read: “Gut piles from game shot with lead ammo are very attractive to eagles, and very toxic.”
Only a small amount of lead, it said, can kill an eagle.
Maynard said: “I would be happy to talk to any hunting groups, whatever, about this issue and engage in a conversation if they would like to do so.”
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.