KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) — A female bald eagle rescued by a Ketchikan man died shortly after arriving at the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka.
On the afternoon of Jan. 13, Eric Fischer was driving around the Mountain Point area, "checking out some real estate," when he noticed a couple by the side of the road. After driving by a couple of times, Fischer got out and saw what had attracted their attention: A wounded bald eagle.
The eagle was resting in a puddle, "literally three feet off the road there," Fischer said.
"She looked confused," he added, and "was drinking a ton of water." After drinking, the eagle's head would wobble back and forth "like she was drunk."
The couple told Fischer they tried to contact every agency they could think of but found no help. Fischer, on the advice of a friend, contacted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who told him to bring the bird in to the Ketchikan office.
With some trepidation, Fischer said he and a friend placed a blanket over the bird and then scooped it up and placed it in a box. The raptor didn't put up a fight.
After examining the bird, Fish and Game officials discovered it had an infected talon, which prevented it from properly perching or catching fish.
The next morning, the wounded eagle was flown to the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka. By the time it got there, its condition was rapidly deteriorating, said Debbie Reeder, executive director for the center. It died within two days of arriving.
"It was in really rough shape and just didn't make it," Reeder said.
However, Reeder said the cause of death most likely was not the infection.
Reeder said an X-ray showed evidence of lead in the bird's stomach. Lead also was found in its droppings. The bird very likely died from lead poisoning, Reeder said.
Although it's rare for raptors taken to the center to exhibit such poisoning, it's not uncommon for eagles and other meat- and fish-eating animals to be poisoned by lead. Often, the source of the lead is a fishing weight that snapped off the line, or a bullet lodged in an animal that later was scavenged. In any case, the lead consumption is often fatal.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a wildlife conservation group, an estimated 3,000 tons of lead are shot from firearms into the environment each year. Some states and countries ban the use of lead ammunition. The State of Alaska bans the use of lead bullets when hunting waterfowl and migratory birds.
Fischer learned about the eagle's death when he spoke with an employee of the center.
"I was very sad, because she was a big, huge, beautiful bird, that's for sure," he said, adding that the eagle was fully grown and likely mated. Eagles generally mate for life, though they may mate again in the event that their first mate dies.
Nevertheless, Fischer said helping the eagle was a positive experience. He's since become a donor to the Alaska Raptor Center and said he'd like to see the public become more aware of the hazardous materials they leave for wild animals to consume.
He also was grateful for the enthusiasm and dedication Fish and Game employees showed when he called them.
"It's pretty impressive, they got about seven people to show up at 5:30 in the afternoon," he said.
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com