Oldest Recorded Bald Eagle Recovering From Lead Poisoning

Photo: Game Warden Joe McBrine handles the oldest eagle ever documented in Maine, which is nearly 34 years old. (Photo IFW website).

By Amy Jeanroy

Last week, social media was buzzing with a story of an eagle rescue from Trescott. Maine Game Warden Joe McBrine was called to Trescott TWP to help with an injured bald eagle, whose leg band ID showed it to be the oldest balk eagle ever documented in Maine. 

The injured eagle was transported to  Avian Haven in Freedom, Maine, where according to Selkie O'Mira, Avian Haven's Facebook Manager, the eagle seems to be recovering well.  

The eagle had wing lacerations consistent with fighting and is suffering from lead poisoning. 

O'Mira says that bald eagles get lead poisoning mostly from spent lead ammunition. Lead bullets can shatter into tiny fragments on impact, then eagles and other scavengers ingest those lead fragments when they feed on a deer carcass, which has been shot with lead ammo, or a coyote bait pile made up of game meat scraps that contain these fragments of lead. In the eagles Avian Haven has admitted with pieces of lead remaining in their GI tract, this is what they usually find. They have occasionally found lead shot pellets, used in hunting turkeys or shooting crows; but they have not found anything resembling lead fishing gear. It is almost always small fragments of lead bullets. It only takes a tiny amount of lead to debilitating an eagle. Sometimes they consume enough for their lack of coordination to cause an accident, other times it is enough to kill them. 

Most bald eagles are admitted to Avian Haven with lead poisoning during the fall and winter months when they are scavenging for food. So far this year, they have admitted eight bald eagles with lead poisoning. Four of them died soon after arrival. The Trescott eagle is one of four lead-poisoned eagles currently in care. 

The facility is one of the largest wild bird rehab facilities in New England. Last year Avian Haven cared for over 2,500 birds. They receive no government funding, and their operating budget is made up of donations and foundation grants alone.  They do not work with domestic birds, and their goal for every bird is to be released into the wild, so they are not open for tours, as they are not a nature center and the birds must receive minimal human contact.  For more on this nonprofit organization, visit:www.avianhaven.org.