SAUNDERSTOWN — Many across the state were shocked last week to hear about the bald eagle which was found near the Johnston Landfill, shot by an unknown assailant sometime in the recent past. The bird is now under the care of the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island (WRARI) in Saunderstown, and was scheduled to undergo a CAT Scan on Tuesday.
Dr. Chi Chan, a veterinarian who has been examining the eagle since it was brought to WRARI last Tuesday, and Executive Director Kristin Fletcher, have been doing their best to nourish and rejuvenate the bird that was found in the tree of a property’s backyard near to Johnston Landfill.
“She came in the Tuesday following the blizzard and had been spotted in someone’s yard though she was caught up in the tree,” said Fletcher. “Eventually she came down, they caught her and brought her in.”
“She was in really difficult straits, with her chest down and eyes closed,” she added. “[The eagle] was just prostrate on the floor of a container. We got her on an IV overnight and warmed her. She was a little better the next day, although we still has a guarded prognosis. Her weight was ok and then [Chan] started a thorough exam.”
Fletcher expressed deep concern because the eagle seemingly has had no desire to eat during the past week, even when fed by veterinarians. During the initial examination, veterinarians found no serious external or internal injury which would predicate the eagle’s loss of appetite, and the small pellets from the buck shot that hit her were found embedded in her skin but not causing further damage.
“It has been a roller coaster ride, but she has become more alert,” said Fletcher. “Even though we offer her fish, [the eagle] is not showing any interest in eating at all. She is on antibiotics for swelling in her legs. We did her bloodwork and everything came back within normal range. There was a higher count on the lead test, but not so high that it should be causing her to be the way she is.”
Chan and her group of veterinarians believe that the eagle may be suffering from neurological issues or perhaps lead poisoning, but that cannot be confirmed until the results from the CAT Scan are completed.
“[The veterinarians] determined she had been shot with buck shot, had a pellet in her chest and in her leg, and in her tail area,” said Fletcher. “Sometimes with lead, if it is in muscle tissue, doesn’t have a affect on the body, but if it gets into the gastrointestinal tract, that is where you could get lead poisoning.”
“Right now the big thing is finding out why she is eating the way she is, and if something is affecting her brain,” she added. “We are hoping the CAT scan will give a little more information.”
Fletcher stated that Johnston Landfill is a typical feeding area for eagles, who can prey on smaller birds like sea gulls which flock to the garbage heap. Veterinarians are puzzled that the eagle does not wish to eat, even though she is fairly healthy and has survived in the wild for a relatively long period of time since birth.
“Any wild animal or bird doesn’t last long in the wild, and maybe eight out of 10 don’t make it into their first year,” said Fletcher. “These young birds will run into a great deal of trouble if they are not successful in finding food, and she was succeeding very nicely until someone shot her.”
“In terms of survival of the fittest, she was in that category of being one of the fittest,” she added. “The bird just ran into the wrong person.”
Under multiple laws outlined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, specifically the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, shooting a bald eagle is punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or up to one year imprisonment. For a second offense, violators would serve double those amounts. According to Fletcher, a criminal investigation of who shot the bird is currently underway.