FREEDOM — For the eighth time since the beginning of January 2020, Avian Haven has received an eagle sickened from lead bird shot. This seventh eagle, found on North Haven, died on the morning of Friday, Feb. 21, but not before a chain reaction of assistance that would allow at least a short expansion of life to a mighty predator and national symbol.
Hours after the seventh bird died, another sick-appearing eagle was captured on North Haven and transported to Avian Haven.
Wednesday, Feb. 19., the seventh bird was found sick and unable to fly on North Haven. Through a mission dubbed “Operation Golden Eagle” Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Landers came to the rescue, and set into motion the chain of events.
Deputy Landers had received a call from a homeowner early afternoon that a bald eagle appeared to be unable to fly and was perched about 100 yards from their back deck. Deputy Landers made contact with the Maine Warden service and eventually Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Freedom. Because of the remote island location, their executive director, Diane Winn, asked Deputy Landers if he would feel comfortable being talked through how to effect a capture.
Deputy Landers arrived and met with the homeowner after receiving a little guidance on how to proceed. The homeowner and Deputy Landers used blankets and tried to keep the eagle preoccupied with one osr the other until they could throw blankets over the bird and grab its thighs to control the talons. Deputy Landers was then able to place the bird in a large dog crate the homeowner provided.
Sergeant Paul Spear rendezvoused with Deputy Landers at the North Haven Ferry Terminal and escorted the eagle back to Rockland where the Avian Haven Center had sent a volunteer transporter. By 6:30 p.m., the same evening, the eagle arrived at Avian Haven.
After awhile, Deputy Landers received an update from Diane Winn.
“Unfortunately, this beautiful male eagle was suffering from lead poisoning,” said KCSO, in a Facebook posting. “Diane [Winn] sadly explained that 6 other eagles have been admitted to their facility this year alone after eagles often find discarded gut piles from hunters who field dress their game and leave the innards behind. It's a tasty and easy meal for the eagles, but filled with lead pellets or bullet fragments. Because this eagle's blood levels were so elevated survival isn't very likely. She added, using copper bullets instead of lead, or being conscientious and burying the gut piles would go along way to stop this very preventable condition for Maine's eagles.”
The bird was an adult eagle, likely male based on size, according to Avian Haven, in their own Facebook post. X-rays revealed no broken bones or other orthopedic reason for the bird's inability to fly, but a blood test showed that his blood lead level was off the scale of the clinic’s screening instrument. Staff commenced chelation therapy immediately even though, at that level of exposure, the probability of recovery is slim to none, according to AH. Chelation therapy is a process of administering substances to the body to remove heavy metals.
On Thursday, Feb. 20, the eagle was no longer standing, and staff had already begun hearing the vocalizations that signal the onset of respiratory distress associated with lead poisoning.
“We understand there are no coyotes on the island, so exposure from contaminated waste meat used as coyote bait is unlikely,” they said. “Other possibilities include gut piles left over from hunting season, unretrieved carcasses of other game animals, and the remains of ‘nuisance’ animals that have been dispatched by gunshot.”
On Friday, Feb. 21, Knox County deputies were called to another possibly sick eagle on North Haven.
This time, Kelly Adams, of North Haven, was delivering UPS/FedEx packages on her daily delivery schedule and noticed the eagle very close to the edge of the roadway near the island's airstrip. She reported thinking that it was unusual that the bird didn't fly away when she drove within a dozen feet of it, according to the KCSO. Shortly afterwards, she contacted Deputy Landers, who responded to the area but didn't immediately see the bird. Deputy Landers contacted Maine Game Warden Justin Fowlie who requested that an area search be performed on foot.
Deputy Landers located the bird about a quarter mile away near the woodline of the airstrip. Similar to the eagle earlier in the week, the bird couldn't fly more than a few dozen feet at a time.
Deputy Landers called for the assistance of the North Haven Fire Department who were eventually able to surround the bird and effect a capture. Pilot Roger Robertson of Penobscot Island Air flew to North Haven so that the eagle could be quickly evacuated to Avian Haven in Freedom.
Based on the behavior of the eagle, Diane Winn, of Avian Haven, believes the bird is likely suffering from toxic lead poisoning, according to KCSO.