Bald eagle ‘Birdzilla’ recovers from lead poisoning, soaring above treetops once again

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After suffering from severe lead poisoning, a bald eagle in Nova Scotia has made an astounding recovery, and is back soaring above the treetops.

The bird was brought to the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Brookfield, Nova Scotia at the end of December.

“We had seven eagles at our place when we had her…but she made the other ones look like mini-birds,” Helene Van Doninck, veterinarian and director of the wildlife centre, told CBC News.

They nicknamed the 6.4-kilogram female “Birdzilla,” because she’s the largest bald eagle the centre has ever seen. She’s resilient too.

Birdzilla arrived at the centre so weak that she could barely hold her head up—a sure sign of lead poisoning.

According to Van Doninck, poisoned eagles “usually look like they’re drunk or stoned.” They have slower reaction times, which also makes them more likely to get hit by cars or hurt themselves by landing clumsily. If they become sick enough, they stop flying altogether, and can end up starving to death.

Sadly, Birdzilla’s case is not an anomaly—according to reports, an estimated 25 percent of eagles brought to rehab centres in North America have serious lead poisoning. In fact, two women from Duluth, Minnesota took an eagle suffering from lead poisoning into a rehab centre last week.

The problem is particularly prevalent during hunting season, since ammunition is the leading culprit. As scavengers, eagles will feast on wounded deer or other animals that have been shot, and it only takes small fragments of lead bullets to harm the birds.

Once blood tests confirmed Birdzilla was suffering from lead poisoning, workers at the rehab centre quickly began treating her. They do so with a chemical that binds to the lead and takes it out of the tissue. The toxin is then filtered by the kidneys and excreted.

According to Wildwoods, a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Duluth, treatment for lead poisoning can sometimes take up to a year. But Birdzilla lived up to her nickname, and after spending just a month at Cobequid, the robust eagle was rereleased into the wild this past weekend.

“The weather was good, she was flying like a fighter jet in our enclosure, so we decided that Saturday was a good day to let her go,” Van Doninck told CBC News.

In attempt to prevent future incidents like these, Van Doninck travels the Maritimes, talking to hunters about the harm of using lead products. Non-toxic alternatives might be more expensive, but they could save an eagle’s life.

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