By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital
A bald eagle was among the 65 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a Florida snapping turtle, a yellow rat snake, a prairie warbler, a sharp-shinned hawk and a Brazilian free-tailed bat.
Hospital staff received a call regarding a debilitated bald eagle at the Collier County Landfill. The eagle was in an altercation with another bald eagle the day before which caused the eagle to land in a wet, spray on cement mixture. With its feathers and body covered in cement, it could not fly.
Wildlife Hospital volunteer Tim Thompson headed to the landfill to rescue the eagle. Tim was taken to the site where the eagle was situated on a mound of trash. Fortuitously, Gunnar Dittrich, Wildlife Technician with Predatory Bird Services, Inc., was onsite and is skilled with handling raptors. Gunnar netted the eagle and helped Tim contain the bird in a transport crate.
See the eagle being captured in the video below.
The rescue turned out to be the most straightforward part of this case; cleaning the cement mixture from the eagle’s body and feathers was a novel situation for von Arx Wildlife Hospital staff and offered a challenge.
To ensure the safety of the eagle, as well as the safety of the staff handling the bird, calls were made to the landfill to determine the exact compound that was on the eagle’s feathers. With the Safety Data Sheet on hand, a hospital staff member called Poison Control for information regarding toxicity issues and health risks from inhalation and ingestion of the compound. Poison control verified the most hazardous effect of the cement was inhalation of the powder; there was also a danger of the eagle ingesting the cement as it preened its feathers.
A second staff member called several raptor rehabilitation facilities to see if anyone had experience removing cement from bald eagle feathers. No one from the other facilities had experience with cement removal from feathers but all offered suggestions on possible cleaning protocols.
Taking all of the information we had gathered into account, our plan to clean the cement from the eagle’s feathers was discussed so each person would know their role.
First off, the eagle was anesthetized to minimize stress and make handling easier during the bathing process. Since inhalation of the cement powder posed a serious health risk, the eagle’s entire body was gently hosed down to wet the powder that was emanating from the cement. One rehabber restrained the eagle while the staff vet monitored its breathing and heart rate. Three rehabilitation staff members were in charge of washing sections of the eagle’s feathers using mineral oil to break apart the cement. The eagle was then bathed in Dawn dishwashing liquid to remove the mineral oil from the feathers.
The washing process was difficult yet fairly successful; when the eagle’s heart rate weakened, the process was halted. A second bath would be required but staff felt hopeful since a majority of the cement had been removed.
After the bath, the eagle was placed in a recovery space in the bird room with a cage dryer to dry its feathers. Once the eagle had rested and its condition had stabilized, staff offered a fish and rodent diet which the eagle eagerly ate. A second bath three days later removed much of the remaining cement and mineral oil from the eagle’s feathers.
The eagle’s behavior and strength improved dramatically which allowed staff to move the eagle to an outdoor recovery space. Due to the extreme damage done to the eagle’s feathers, it will not be able to fly or thermoregulate properly, therefore, the eagle will be a long-term patient until it undergoes a complete feather molt.
This case shows how it ‘takes a village’ for us to successfully help debilitated wildlife. Our volunteer, Tim, along with Gunnar, the staff at Poison Control who didn’t charge us for their services and all the rehabilitators from other centers who offered their input and expert opinions — everyone had the same goal of helping to ensure the eagle could be successfully rehabilitated.
An osprey, a Virginia opossum, a laughing gull, three mourning doves, a sandwich tern, four brown pelicans, a Cooper’s hawk, a black-throated blue warbler, two red-shouldered hawks, an ovenbird, a marsh rabbit, a Florida softshell turtle and a black-bellied plover were released this past week.
Opportunities to Help
Please visit the Conservancy website at www.conservancy.org to view all of the wonderful work done at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your memberships and donations enable us continue our efforts to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.