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Release of lead-poisoned bald eagle delayed

By Paul Craig

A bald eagle found in Longview with severe lead poisoning is ready to return to the wild. It just isn't happening yet.


PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - A bald eagle found in Longview with severe lead poisoning is ready to return to the wild.

It just isn't happening yet.

The eagle was discovered in May and veterinarians believe it was poisoned after eating the remains of an animal shot with lead ammunition.

After more than three months of intense treatment at the Audubon Society of Portland, the animal was given a clean bill of health.

The plan was to release the eagle back into the wild at Willow Grove Park near Longview Saturday. However, during a pre-release exam, the bird was having trouble lifting off the ground as it tried to fly.

Veterinarians believe it may be due to soft tissue damage sustained in one of its wings. A new release date is not yet set.

Veterinarians said in addition to high levels of lead in the bird's blood, it also had metal in its stomach. The veterinarians credit a state-of-the-art lead-testing machine provided by the Oregon Zoo for quickly diagnosing and treating the poisoned raptor.

During its time at Portland Audubon's Wildlife Care Center, the eagle not only received treatment for lead poisoning, but also contributed to research aimed at helping protect other wildlife from lead.

In January, with an assist from the Oregon Zoo, the Audubon Society launched a study of lead's impact on local birds like the eagle in this case. For every raptor the care center admits, staff members draw a blood sample, running it through a machine that tests for lead. The results are recorded in a growing database to track the extent of exposure in local raptor populations.

Lead poisoning, despite the damage it wreaks on a bird's nervous and digestive systems, is tricky to diagnose without a blood test. Poisoned raptors may have easy-to-identify symptoms like paralysis and seizures, but some exhibit inconclusive symptoms like lethargy. Others die without showing any symptoms at all, according to the Audubon Society.

"The eagle is in excellent health and has met all of the standards we set for birds going back into the wild," said Portland Audubon veterinarian Deb Sheaffer, before the recent setback. "Its lead levels have dropped and it has been flying beautifully in a flight cage we use to get raptors ready for release."

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