Third eagle dies of lead poisoning

Third eagle dies of lead poisoning

Tom's Mailbag publishes at 2 p.m. Fridays. Submit questions by clicking here.

A sampling of what's to come later today:

"In The News-Gazette article about the Snowy Owl that the University of Illinois Vet Med Clinic was trying to help, there was mention of two Bald eagles that died from lead poisoning. How did they ingest lead, and were they in close proximity to each other?"

A: We talked with Dr. Sarah Reich at the UI's Wildlife Medical Clinic who said that a third Bald eagle arrived at the clinic Tuesday, suffering from lead poisoning.

Today, Reich told our Deb Pressey that the eagle had died.

Although all three were found in Illinois they were not found in the same area. One was found in Charleston, another in Decatur and the third in Low Point, in Woodford County by the Illinois River.

"They all tested positive and honestly anything over zero in eagles is usually a problem," Reich said. "These guys usually accidentally ingest lead pellets from a gunshot or lead from a sinker from a fisherman's equipment because people don't realize that eagles are scavengers. They're kinda lazy birds actually and if there's something that's been pre-killed accidentally or on purpose left out, they'll go and ingest that."

Whether accidentally purposely it's the fault of humans that the birds are poisoned, she said.

Many states are trying to ban lead, said Reich, "because our birds are very susceptible to lead poisoning."

Often the birds are brought to the clinic with "inappropriate neurologic behavior. They'll be very, very dull and very quiet. A lot of them can't stand and they're just lying down on their stomachs. They may have other signs like a head tilt or they'll have seizures or tremors."

She said "we usually don't see this many at one time."

"I'm concerned obviously but I'd be a lot more concerned if they were coming from the same area because it would mean that someone was specifically poisoning these animals by leaving out carcasses or by fishing. But they're all from different parts of Illinois," said Reich.

She said she hopes to talk with Illinois Department of Natural Resources officers and other wildlife clinics to see if they also are seeing more instances of animals with lead poisoning.

"This could just be a big coincidence. Usually you see this during hunting season and it's not really hunting season now. It's just a very odd time frame."

In 2015 the clinic treated four eagles. In 2016 it had six and last year there were seven.

"This is more eagles in one small time frame than we've ever seen. We usually don't see three — bam, bam, bam — like this. And we never get them all positive for lead. It's interesting," she said. "Maybe it's a good year for eagles and there's been a population boom and that's why we're seeing a bunch. But it's a lot of eagles in a short time frame.

"Someone was asking me, when do you know if it's a trend or not? I don't have a great answer for that because we've never seen anything like this before. But if we have another eagle come in with lead toxicosis then I'm going to be very, very concerned. At this point I don't know what else it could be besides coincidence, just a bad coincidence," said Reich.

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