LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- A female bald eagle found on the ground and near death from zinc poisoning earlier this month returned to the skies over Greenbrier County on Wednesday, following nearly three weeks of rehabilitation at the Three Rivers Avian Center.
A dozer operator at the Greenbrier County Landfill spotted the grounded eagle Aug. 10 near the landfill's main entrance gate. He reported the bird's presence to landfill manager Wayne Childers, who in turn contacted Greenbrier County animal control officer Robert McClung.
"She was sitting on her rear end, barely able to stand because she was so weak and run down," when McClung arrived at the scene, said Wendy Perrone, executive director of Three Rivers Avian Center (TRAC) at Brooks in Summers County.
Once the eagle arrived at TRAC, it lost consciousness on several occasions and was placed in the facility's intensive care unit. Dr. Bill Streit, TRAC's staff veterinarian, examined the bird and took blood samples, which he sent off for analysis.
While lead poisoning was initially suspected as the cause of the eagle's illness, when the results of the bloodwork came back and were analyzed, it was determined that zinc poisoning was in fact the culprit.
"Zinc phosphide is a common ingredient in a new series of poisons used to kill rodents," said Perrone. Zinc phosphide-based poisons don't immediately kill the rats, mice and others rodents that consume it, so animals who ingest it remain temporarily mobile, but in a weakened state, making them easy prey for raptors and other forms of wildlife.
During the eagle's first few days at TRAC, "we had a real problem getting her to eat," Perrone said. "She was very careful about what food she took in."
Mice, rats, rabbits and bluegill were among entrees offered, but the bird's talons-down favorite proved to be squirrel. Only two road-killed squirrels could be rounded up and served to the patient, but both "went right down the hatch, without a trace left behind," Perrone said.