One week, two bald eagles

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

Two bald eagles were among the 55 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week.

One eagle that was admitted had been seen suffering with an injured leg for several months. Hospital staff received numerous calls from concerned citizens around Collier County but the eagle was well-flighted and proved impossible to catch. A recent sighting and photo from the Collier County Landfill showed the eagle’s left leg was no longer viable.

An FWC officer was on CREW lands when he spotted the eagle. He attempted to capture the eagle but the bird flew off. The officer figured the bird was managing to survive, even with its injury.

Surprisingly, the eagle flew back and landed on the ground in front of the officer allowing him to finally capture the bird.

It was obvious the eagle’s injury had taken its toll. The eagle was thin, overrun with external parasites, while the left leg was blackened with only the bone and talons remaining; all muscle and soft tissue had sloughed off.

Due to the extensive damage, our only option was humane euthanasia.

The second bald eagle was found in Naples on Gordon Drive south of the Napes Pier. The eagle was seen on the ground unable to fly. Hospital Volunteer Critter Couriers Ron and Gaylene Vasaturo rescued the eagle and brought the bird to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

The eagle was alert but obviously weak; an exam showed the eagle was extremely anemic with regions of hemorrhage along both wings. The bird was given vitamin K, subcutaneous electrolytes and placed on oxygen in an animal intensive care unit to rest.

The following morning, the eagle appeared a bit stronger and was sitting upright but was paler than the previous day. Within an hour, the eagle was in respiratory distress and did not survive.

The eagle was sent for necropsy and testing to the University of Georgia. Preliminary results showed the eagle had injuries often seen in birds that have had intraspecies conflict.

Further toxicology testing will reveal whether the eagle suffered from other issues (heavy metal or anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning) that contributed to his death.

Reason for concern

Final diagnosis from necropsies and toxicology tests performed on two bald eagles admitted to the wildlife hospital in November, 2016 showed the eagles died from anticoagulant rodenticide exposure. Anticoagulant rodenticides are compounds that inhibit normal blood clotting resulting in excessive bleeding and death.

Anticoagulant rodenticides are used as a form of rodent control in various setting, including agricultural, residential and commercial areas. The poison bait kills rodents but can also cause mortality in non-target species of mammals and birds either through primary exposure (eat the poison bait) or secondary exposure (eat a poisoned animal).

The presence of rodenticides in predators, such as birds of prey, reveals the potential consequences these poisons have on animal higher in the food chain, not just the species for which they were intended.

Rodent control is a difficult issue with no quick and easy solutions. Preventative measures and exclusion are long term solutions to rodent issues that don’t compromise environmental health.

The loss of these eagles to secondary anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning is tragic, but hopefully can serve as a catalyst for people to reconsider their approach to rodent control.

Recent Releases — 21 Animals Returned Home

  • 1 Virginia opossum
  • 1 double-crested cormorant
  • 1 Florida snapping turtle
  • 2 Florida softshell turtles
  • 6 raccoons
  • 7 eastern cottontails
  • 1 northern mockingbird
  • 1 great blue heron
  • 1 gopher tortoise

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at www.conservancy.org to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Volunteers are needed more than ever during our incredibly busy summer season. Your volunteer time, memberships and donations are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239–262–2273 or see conservancy.org.