A Costly Free Meal
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
Five days after arriving at PAWS, eagle 09-0094 had fully recovered from barbiturate poisoning.
At 11:35 am on April 2, I
was standing on a large piece of King County Parks property next to the
Green River staring at the back and tail of a sub-adult Bald Eagle. The
eagle's release carrier had just been opened, and he had not yet turned
around to discover that he was no longer a captive. A light rain began
to fall as several King County Parks employees, a PAWS extern and I
waited anxiously for the bird to make his exit. I thought about what
the bird had been through, and how the past six weeks of captivity and
care must have been frightening and incomprehensible to him. The
thought of the bird now preparing to fly free made the day seem sunny
despite overcast skies.
Bald Eagle 09-0094 arrived at the PAWS
Wildlife Center on February 14. He was the fourth of six eagles who
were admitted to the center in less than a week and, like the others,
he was found on the ground near Enumclaw acting lethargic and unable to
fly. He was also suffering from a fractured leg, which may have
resulted from his either running into something or being hit by a car
while he was disoriented. It is unusual for PAWS to receive six Bald
Eagles in a week, let alone six from the same city and with the same
symptoms. The first three birds had all arrived on February 10, and
poisoning had quickly jumped to the top of the list of likely causes.
Although he had survived the poisoning, the eagle still had a badly fractured leg that required surgical intervention.
Unfortunately, it is fairly common for
eagles and other carnivorous scavengers to be poisoned when they feed
on the carcasses of euthanized livestock that have not been disposed of
properly. With this suspicion in mind, Washington Department of Fish
and Wildlife officer Bruce Richards went door to door in the area in
which the eagles had been found. He had personally collected and
transported five of the six eagles to PAWS, and he wanted to do what he
could to prevent any more animals from being affected.
After knocking on only two doors,
Officer Richards met a man who had recently euthanized his horse. When
the man showed Officer Richards where the horse had been buried, he saw
that parts of the animal were still exposed. It was clear that
scavengers had been feeding on the horse carcass and that meant they
had been ingesting the barbiturates used to end the horse's suffering.
Officer Richards instructed the man to bury the body properly and no
further incidents of poisoned wildlife were reported.
At his release, eagle 09-0094 showed no lingering effects from the poisoning and leg fracture he had suffered.
The eagle wasted no time taking flight at his release.
Eagle 09-0094 headed straight for the Green River after taking to the air.
One of the eagles who arrived at PAWS
on February 10 was in much worse shape than the others. His condition
deteriorated and he died a few days after being admitted. Fortunately,
the other five birds responded well to treatment and supportive care
and quickly recovered as the poison worked its way out of their
systems. By February 17, four of the eagles were ready for release, and
Officer Richards returned them to Enumclaw and set them free. Bald
Eagle 09-0094 was not able to accompany them. Although he had recovered
fully from the poisoning, his damaged leg still required attention.
On February 20, PAWS Wildlife
Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee performed surgery on eagle 09-0094.
Stainless steel pins were put in place to support the eagle's broken
femur as it healed. It healed beautifully, and after four weeks the
fracture site was stable enough to allow Dr. Huckabee to remove the
After the hardware was removed from his
leg, the eagle had a slight limp. He was placed in a large flight pen
to condition himself for release. It wasn't long before he was showing
signs that his stamina had returned, and he landed, stood and walked
confidently on his formerly injured leg. His rehabilitation complete,
the eagle's release was scheduled for April 2.
As the small group of people standing
by the Green River silently watched, eagle 09-0094 turned around in his
carrier and saw what awaited him beyond the open door. He apparently
liked what he saw. Without hesitation he simultaneously burst through
the doorway and spread his wings. As the wings reached their full
spread, both of the eagle's feet planted themselves firmly on the
ground in front of the carrier. His body continued to move slightly
forward and down as his legs bent in preparation for launch.
The eagle leaped into the air and flew
in a straight line to the river. Once he was above the water, he turned
upstream and followed the channel. He was cruising at treetop level and
showed no signs of slowing down by the time he disappeared from view
around a bend.