Recovering from poisoning, bald eagles show incredible resilience

Mar 26, 2013

When Mike Pratt first saw the six critically-ill bald eagles, he held out little hope.

“Several of the eagles were in very critical condition when we picked them up,” said Pratt, director of wildlife at West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

Pratt wasn’t even sure two of the birds would survive the drive from Olympia to Bainbridge Island, where the shelter is located. By the time they’d arrived, things had taken a turn for the worse.

“We thought one was dead,” said Pratt. “We had to give them medication to increase the heart(beat).”

Credit Dottie Tison / West Sound Wildlife Shelter

Sickened by poisoned horse carcass

Property owners in Winlock, Wash. had found the sickened eagles and called for help.

“They weren’t really sure of the cause. They just knew these eagles were really sick, you know, almost dead,” said Pratt.  

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials found the poisoned horse carcasses nearby, and veterinarians later determined the eagles had fed on horse carcass tainted with Euthasol, a highly-toxic drug used for euthanasia.

Six of the birds were rushed to nearby Raindancer Wild Bird Rescue in Olympia, then later transferred to West Sound Wildlife Shelter, a bigger facility. A seventh was taken to the Audubon Society of Portland.

’We’re all encouraged’

Credit Dottie Tison / West Sound Wildlife Shelter

Under the care of the shelter’s volunteer veterinarians, the birds proved Pratt’s fears wrong. On Tuesday, the birds were moved outside and switched to solid food.

“The blood work today — everything is starting to come back to normal. (It’s) all looking pretty good. We’re all encouraged,” he said. “If you would’ve asked me yesterday, I would’ve been still doubtful. But I think they’re going to all make it.”

Pratt, with new reason to be cautiously optimistic, said he hoped to release the birds back into the wild by the weekend.

“These birds are resilient. With their combination of fighting (spirit) and modern medicine, we can hopefully get them turned around quickly,” said Pratt.

On Tuesday, two of the eagles remained in critical condition while two others were in stable-but-guarded condition. The remaining two were in recovery.

Credit Dottie Tison / West Sound Wildlife Shelter

‘This is one of those preventable things’

The bird receiving treatment in Portland was making a fast recovery, and scheduled to be released on Wednesday.

Pratt praised both the property owners who called for help and the volunteers who helped in the rescue and the treatment of the birds.

“The public got involved, and they saved seven bald eagles that would’ve died out there,” he said.

He added he hopes the incident serves as a lesson for proper disposal of poisoned carcasses. 

“The sad thing is this is one of those preventable things,” he said. “It could have been any animal. Dogs, cats, even children could’ve gotten into those carcasses.”