Bald eagles suffering lead poisoning, on brink of death

The Raptor Education Group strongly encourages hunters to use copper-jacketed bullets instead of lead

bald eagle in treatment
(Photo: WBAY)

ANTIGO, Wis. (WBAY) – A raptor rescue organization just outside Antigo has taken in four bald eagles in recent days, all suffering from lead poisoning and on the brink of death.

The group is calling on deer hunters to more closely consider the ammunition they use.

The latest patient arrived on Monday. The prognosis is up in the air, with liver failure, a shutdown of the digestive system and internal bleeding.

“This bald eagle was not doing anything wrong, was just making a living and found a gut pile,” Marge Gibson, executive director of Raptor Education Group Inc., said.

The Raptor Education Group takes in an average of 25 bald eagles a year suffering from lead poisoning, and Gibson estimates that’s only two percent of Wisconsin eagles that are actually sick.

The birds’ arrival coincides with deer season as the statewide youth hunt was held just a few weeks ago.

“November starts our lead poisoning season, we call it.”

According to Gibson, the problem is the lead bullets used by hunters which can fragment and be left behind in the remains hunters leave in the woods.

“This is purely a lead issue,” Gibson said. “Sometimes people say, ‘Well, they’ll get over it.’ Well, they can’t get over it; it’s a heavy metal.”

Which is why the Raptor Education Group strongly encourages hunters to use copper-jacketed bullets, which help prevent fragmenting upon impact.

“We are not anti-hunting. In fact, we have programs we count on hunters to bring us deer hearts, for instance, in our Have a Heart program so we can feed it to our birds, and even trapping, we utilize bodies trappers don’t need once they take the fur off.”

One eagle didn’t make it. An X-ray showed the lead that proved to be fatal.

For the three remaining, it’s around-the-clock injections and feeding.

“We have to give her liquid food. We’re giving her vitamin K to slow down the bleeding if we can.”

If they’re lucky, the sick eagles will join the recovering eagles in the fly zone in a few months. A release back into the wild is at least a year away.

“It’s sad. People don’t see it. I always say I wish people could come and spend a day with us, just spend a day, and I make that offer to people who don’t believe lead poisoning is real and in our wildlife, but we’ve never had anybody come.”