- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

FRISCO, N.C. (AP) - A sick American bald eagle found in a field in Perquimans County is doing much better now, thanks to a local man and a wildlife rehabilitation specialist who lives on the Outer Banks.

Pete Marriner, of New Hope, recently recovered a bald eagle from a field in the Woodville area and transferred it to the care of Lou Browning, a Frisco-based wildlife rehabilitation specialist.

The large bird turned out to have lead poisoning, which likely happened after years of eating prey or animal remains tainted with lead. The bird is doing much better now, said Browning, a federally-permitted wildlife specialist and owner of the nonprofit, Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation.

Marriner, who works as a welder at Hochmeyer Equipment Corp. in Elizabeth City, is a long-time friend of Browning and has helped him in the past to recover sick or injured animals.

“You name it, I’ve picked them up,” Marriner said.

A few weeks ago, Marriner received a text from Browning, alerting him there was a sick eagle in a field in Perquimans and asking if he could recover the bird for him.

Marriner went to the field that afternoon and found the sick bird right where it was reported to be. The bird had been on the wet, muddy ground for about three days and was not doing well.

“He was sick, so he wasn’t as active as he’d normally be,” Marriner said.

While it may have been sick the eagle still had some fight in it. When Marriner first approached, the eagle flapped its wings and flew about 75 yards, no more than 5 feet off the ground.

Marriner called Browning, who told him to get the eagle to fly four or five more times; that much flying would tire the bird out, Browning told him.

Marriner followed the advice and after several minutes was able to toss a blanket over the eagle and pick it up.

“When I finally got him he was worn out,” Marriner said. “He didn’t want to run anymore.”

Marriner kept the eagle covered and took it home, where he transferred it to a cage.

“I didn’t think it was going to make it through the night,” Marriner said of the bird’s condition. “It’d been out in some really nasty weather.”

However, Marriner was happily surprised the next morning when he lifted the blanket from the cage and found the bird to be in better spirits, perhaps just happy to be in a dry place.

“When I lifted the blanket he was standing up,” said Marriner, who used to volunteer as a diver at the N.C. Aquarium in Manteo.

He loaded the bird into his car and traveled to Columbia, where he transferred it to Browning.

Browning said he treated the eagle and has since transferred it to the Cape Fear Raptor Center in Wilmington, where it will continue the remainder of its rehabilitation. It is doing well and its blood-lead levels have decreased, Browning said.

He treated the eagle using chelation therapy, one drug each for the blood and for the bones.

At his rehabilitation facility in Frisco, Browning performed X-rays, which revealed the eagle had about 13 to 14 lead fragments in its stomach and intestinal tract. The bird naturally passed the fragments in its intestines, but the stomach fragments had to be removed physically. To do this, Browning fed it a squirrel skin, which the bird cannot digest. This method works because the lead fragments get embedded in the skin and eventually the bird regurgitates it, lead included.

“It’s a common procedure for raptors,” said Browning, adding he also fed the bird and got it well hydrated.

Without having performed a DNA test and based on the bird’s weight and muscle mass Browning said it’s his best guess the eagle is a male about 5 years old.

Browning said there are three vectors by which bald eagles and other raptors accidentally ingest lead particles: They eat a fish that has swallowed lead, like a small fisherman’s sinker; they ingest waterfowl that has previously consumed lead; or they eat the remains of animals that had lead in their body.

Eagles like to eat waterfowl and their migration habits show they tend to travel from pond to pond in search of food, Browning explained.

“They like to stop off at waterfowl impoundments,” he said.

Since 1991 it’s been illegal in the United States for hunters to shoot waterfowl using lead shot. That’s according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While that’s good news, the bad news is that lead lingers for many years, like at the bottom of ponds, Browning said.

Ducks and other waterfowl often dive to feed off the bottom of the pond, where they unknowingly ingest the small lead pellets, Browning said. When a bald eagle captures and eats a duck that has previously consumed lead, that lead is in turn passed to the eagle. After years of repeating this pattern the eagle’s lead levels rise and it becomes ill.

When a hunter’s bullet strikes a deer or other animal it fragments and scatters small lead debris around the area of impact, Browning said. If the animal is cleaned in the field and the carcass gets left behind, an eagle or other scavenger comes along later and eats it, therefore increasing its risks of ingesting lead. Hunters could help prevent this by bringing a shovel with them and burying the remains of animals they field-dress, Browning said.

For more information on the effects of lead poisoning on wildlife visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at fws.gov. Visit Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation on Facebook.


Information from: The Daily Advance, https://www.dailyadvance.com/

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