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April 15, 2009  
Photo of Kevin Mack.

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 pins.

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.



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