NORMAN — An American bald eagle apparently died from pesticide poisoning earlier this month, despite efforts of rescue workers to save it.
Local veterinarian Joe Carter said the poisoning of our national emblem does not bode well for the safety of Oklahoma residents. Eagles live near water sources and feed on fish.
The bald eagle was an adult female who was found Feb. 27 and brought to the WildCare Foundation in Noble where Carter helped treat her until she died March 3.
Lab tests came back positive for brodifacoum — a highly lethal poison that has become one of the world’s most widely used pesticides.
“We were suspicious because on the autopsy, we saw some internal hemorrhaging, and we sent some samples to the lab. They came back positive,” Carter said. “It’s a common pesticide. It’s a very toxic pesticide.
“It worries me from two aspects. It worries me about what’s happening to our wildlife, but it worries me from a public health and safety aspect. It’s something the state needs to look at.”
The eagle was found in Pontotoc County, said Lt. Nathan Erdman, of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“It’s getting it (the poison) from its environment somehow,” Carter said. “That’s the great question. Sometimes animals are sentinels for us humans. If they’re acquiring poisons, are we acquiring these poisons somehow?”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the female eagle’s death.
“It’s an open investigation and we can’t make any comments,” said Matt Bryant, special agent of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We’re working with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation on this.”
Brodifacoum is typically used as rat poison but also is used to control larger pests such as possums. Carter said the poison has a long half-life in the body, which requires prolonged treatment for human and pet poisoning.
The eagle was brought to WildCare because of the organization’s unique credentials.
“We are the largest wildlife rehab organization in the state,” WildCare Director Rondi Large said. “We take in 5,000 animals a year, and WildCare has been in existence for 28 years. There are only two organizations in the state that are allowed to take in bald and golden eagles for rehabilitation. The other is the Iowa Tribe in Perkins. Their organization is the Gray Snow Eagle Aviary and they only do eagles.”
“Not only did it have acute poisoning from brodifacoum, but it also had acute lead toxicity,” Carter said.
Lead shot or lead-based fishing sinkers in streams and lakes create lead toxicity, Large said.
“The ducks eat that and they start dying of lead poisoning, which makes them weak, and that’s when the eagles pick them up,” she said. “We’ve also gotten eagles in that had ingested lead shot. That lead is leaching out into the ground and the water while it sits there.”
Hunters have changed ammunition and are supposed to use non-toxic shot now instead of lead, but Large and Carter are concerned about the lead that is still leaching into state water sources.
“It’s tragic when our national emblem can’t survive in its environment,” Carter said. “Eagles survive on fish and small mammals.”
Bald eagles are more common in the state than some people may realize.
“We have lots of eagles. Some of them stay around, some of them pass through,” said Capt. David Deckard, of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“They’re a migrating species,” Bryant said. “We have them pretty much year-round, but during the migration period, their numbers will increase.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will perform its own lab tests as part of the investigation. The lab results obtained by Carter were done at Michigan State University.
Sadly, eagle deaths are not uncommon.
Last Thursday, an eagle found in McClain County was likely accidentally electrocuted, according to state wildlife officials. The Center for Biological diversity (www.biologicaldivirsity.org) put the number of breeding bald eagles in Oklahoma in 2007 when it was removed from the endangered species list at 60.