As it turns out, dogs might be man and bird’s best friend.
Last Thursday, Kerri Burns and Pam Weber were walking along Duluth, Minnesota’s Sucker River—right where it meets Lake Superior—when they heard Burns’s dog barking. The three-year-old golden retriever had spotted a bald eagle sitting in the brush and immediately alerted her owner of what she had found.
“Shortly after, the eagle hopped out of the vegetation down to the shoreline,” Burns told GrindTV. “[Kenai] fortunately has been trained not to chase wildlife. Once she alerted me and I saw what she was looking at, she stopped barking.”
The women found it strange to see an eagle standing on the shore alongside them, but even stranger was the fact that the bald eagle didn’t fly away as they got closer. Instead, it hopped.
“We walked very slowly toward it,” Burns said. “As we did this, the eagle continued to hop away from us. Clearly there was a problem.”
Dark was setting in, the shoreline was extremely icy, and the women were afraid of scaring the eagle if they got too close, so they left. When they returned early the next day, the eagle was still there. This time, they quickly called the Department of Natural Resources, who helped Burns and Weber catch the eagle.
The pair brought the eagle to Wildwoods, a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Duluth, where the bird was examined and treated for a shoulder injury with fluids and pain medication. They also suspected lead poisoning, “like most of the eagles we get this time of year, during and after deer hunting season,” the centre wrote on their Facebook page.
That’s because one of the most common sources of lead poisoning for eagles is ammunition, which the birds can ingest when feasting on the remains of an animal that’s been shot. It only takes small fragments of these bullets to kill an eagle.
According to Wildwoods: “Affected eagles have slower reaction times and are more likely to get hit by cars, land clumsily and hurt themselves, or, if they have a lot of lead in their systems, become unable to fly and just starve to death on the ground.”
Because Wildwoods is run out of the homes of its wildlife rehabilitators, they weren’t equipped to treat the eagle any further. Burns and Weber then transported the bird to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where they confirmed the high levels of lead suspected, a heart murmur, and a swollen shoulder.
The centre is treating the bird for lead poisoning with a chemical that binds to the lead and takes it out of the tissue. It’s then filtered by the kidneys and excreted.
Lead treatment takes time—sometimes several months to a year—and the extent of the lead damage is still uncertain. But according to Jamie Karlin, a veterinary technician at The Raptor Center, “the bird’s prognosis is fair.”
If the bird does recover, it’s likely to be slow, but its “fair” chance at survival is far better than what it could have been. According to a source at Wildwoods, the eagle would have slowly starved to death if Kenai hadn’t found it.