BAR HARBOR — An adult female bald eagle that flew into power lines and fell to the ground near the Mount Desert Oceanarium Friday morning may have been suffering from lead poisoning, Anne Rivers of the Acadia Wildlife Foundation said.
Eagles stay near their home territory in the winter, Rivers said. “She should not have hit that wire. Her mate was right there; she knows the place very well.”
Ben King reported the incident to the Warden Service and the Bar Harbor Police Department immediately after he saw it happen while driving by, Rivers said. Sgt. Shaun Farrar responded and helped Rivers and her son Tony Mullane capture the bird.
The eagle was on the south side of Route 3 where the terrain is marshy, she said. “She was able to hop pretty fast and fly a little bit,” Rivers said, “so we needed people to sort of encircle her and drive her to somewhere we could get close enough to grab her.”
The three worked together to herd the bird away from the stream toward the tree line. “There’s a fast-moving stream that runs through the middle of the marsh, and there’s a lot of ice,” she said.
“Tony was on the other side of the water, throwing snowballs to send her toward me. The policeman was terrific. He prevented her from getting through the trees out into the road. There was a lot of brush that slowed her down, so I was able to get her.”
The eagle couldn’t fly and had a drooping wing. That often means a fracture in the wing bones, but Rivers didn’t feel a fracture when she caught and checked out the bird, so she worried about lead poisoning.
“Lead can do permanent damage to the nerve that runs along that part of the wing,” she said.
She decided to send the bird to Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, where they conducted tests and found “a medium” amount of lead in the bird’s blood. “She wasn’t dying of it, but she would have in a few days,” she said.
“She had a droopy head, was very thin and very dehydrated – symptoms of lead poisoning, not something that happened when she hit the wires.”
Rehab centers are often able to treat lead poisoning with chelation therapy using medication to bind to the lead in the blood so it’s able to pass out of the body.
The eagle also suffered burns from the power lines on her foot and wing. The entire foot was discolored and cold when the bird arrived at Avian Haven, manager Diane Winn said. “There was no circulation – it’s not unlike what could happen in frostbite.”
Winn said a bird with one foot cannot legally be placed in captivity, so the decision was made in consultation with state game officials to euthanize it.
Eagles are exposed to lead by eating carcasses of deer or game birds that have been shot with lead bullets and pellets, Rivers said. If someone wants to shoot coyotes, which is legal year-round, they can buy deer remains sold as coyote bait by butchers. “Those remains are loaded with lead because pieces of the bullets scatter in the animal.”
“I think many people are not aware at all of how much lead will fragment traveling through flesh,” Winn said. She supports a Hunting With Non-lead advocacy group and would like to see hunters switch to copper-based ammunition.
Limits have been set on lead in hunting water fowl and fishing, out of concern of lead poisoning in loons. Rivers said protecting eagles with a similar ban would be easier. “If they stop lead shot tomorrow, the problem would be over within a very short period of time.
“When you have to take care of something that beautiful and know it’s not going to make it and that we could have done differently … it just drives me crazy. It breaks my heart.”