Bald Eagle Had The Saddest Secret Inside Her Body

This kills so many eagles every year.

After people all across the country learned that countless bald eagles are dying because of lead poisoning - and U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke just overturned a ban on lead bullets that previously helped protect them - another bald eagle was admitted to the Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in Oregon.

bald eagle suffering from lead poisoning
Blue Mountain Wildlife

The bird couldn't eat. And the level of lead in her body was dangerously high. It's likely that she ingested an animal carcass that was left to rot after it was shot with lead bullets by a hunter, or ingested lead fishing tackle. Because lead bullets and fishing tackle are so prevalent, bald eagles keep dying of lead poisoning. If hunters opted for non-lead ammunition, so many needless deaths could be prevented.

radiograph of eagle with lead poisoning
Blue Mountain Wildlife

"Sadly, we admitted another bald eagle yesterday," Blue Mountain executive director Lynn Tompkins, who has been trying to save bald eagles and other raptors in need for the past 30 years, told The Dodo at the time. "Her lead level is 385 micrograms per deciliter. It is nearly 20 times what is considered toxic." Wildlife rehabilitators examined the bird and found that there was lead in her digestive tract.

Tompkins and her staff did all they could for the bird, but she became another victim of a totally preventable problem. They tried to force-feed her rabbit fur in hopes that it will help her regurgitate the lead before it poisoned the rest of her body, but she absolutely refused to eat. "She died a few hours later," Tompkins said. "We could not get the lead in her gut out."

Sadly, so many other bald eagles suffer the same fate.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) researchers examining 58 dead bald eagles in 2012. Sixty percent had detectable concentrations of lead; 38 percent had lethal lead concentrations. | USFWS

But some eagles who are poisoned are able to overcome the toxicity - and rescuers keep trying to save them. As the bald eagle was dying in Oregon, wildlife rehabilitators in Texas were celebrating a success story.

Facebook/Alyssa Goard

A bald eagle had been admitted to the South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (SPWRC) in Lubbock, Texas, in early February and was obviously suffering - his head tilted and he was lethargic.

"When we first got the eagle in we thought he had head trauma," Gail Barnes, wildlife rehabilitator and executive director of SPWRC, told The Dodo.


At the veterinarian, the eagle got an X-ray and blood work - tests came back positive for lead poisoning. "We have had birds die of lead poisoning before," Barnes explained. "That's why it's a standard test we give them when they come into our center."


For the next five days, Barnes gave the eagle special injections to get the poison out of his body. Because he refused to eat, she had to force-feed him to keep him alive.

After treatment, the eagle started to perk up a bit. And soon he was flying around his enclosure. A month later, he was much stronger. Finally, on Saturday, rescuers decided he was strong enough to fly free again.


Barnes and her staff drove for three hours to bring him back to the land where he was found, in Hartley, Texas. "It's important because he knows the area and he may have a mate waiting there," Barnes said.

And they watched as he flew away, hoping he'd stay strong.

Facebook/Alyssa Goard

To give bald eagles impacted by lead a chance to survive, you can contribute to the Blue Mountain rescue center or the South Plains rescue center. You can also contact the Department of the Interior and ask that the ban on lead ammunition be reinstated.