Staffers at the Glen Ellyn-based Willowbrook Wildlife shelter work with a bald eagle that had been poisoned and was rescued near Ottawa Trail Woods in Lyons. (Supplied photo)
Poisoned bald eagle found in Lyons woods
By Kelly White
Bald eagles are becoming increasingly more common in the Chicagoland area, and avid bird enthusiasts said this is no surprise.
“I have been watching the same pair of bald eagles and their offspring for 12 years now,” Sue Delfiacco said.
To Delfiacco, the pair of birds are like family. Every morning, she sets out to the Ottawa Trail Woods at 47th and Harlem in Lyons to check on them. A hobby she thoroughly enjoys.
On New Year’s Day, she noticed something awry – one of the eagles was flying low and appearing lethargic. Its unusual behavior began around noon. It wasn’t long before the bird landed and was struggling to stand on the side of the busy road, a place it stayed for three hours.
“It was obvious something was wrong,” Delfiacco said. “It was sitting in the snow.”
Many local area residents and motorists were on-site, and Delfiacco warned people not to scare the bird to prevent it from moving further into the street. She acted quickly and contacted the Villa Park-based Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.
A Lyons police officer closed off the road. Shortly after, volunteers Cathy Patrick and Lorna Lightle arrived and captured the majestic bird.
“We were very lucky that people kept it out of the street,” said Patrick, of Indian Head Park. “There were no visible injuries to the bird, no breaks.”
Patrick, who previously worked as a volunteer for the Willowbrook Wildlife Center and as a zookeeper at Brookfield Zoo, has dedicated her life caring for birds.
“Finding bald eagles in this area is becoming more and more common,” Patrick said. “I’ve rescued two bald eagles in the past five years and helped transport another.”
The bird was housed overnight with the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors due to its being New Year’s Day.
“It’s a mature bird with the iconic white head,” Annette Prince, Director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, said. “A really beautiful bird.”
Prince said it is difficult to determine whether the bird is male or female without a DNA test. She was the one who took in the original call from Delfiacco on New Year’s Day.
“Bald eagles are around us,” Prince said. “They are among us. If you see something out of the ordinary, like this, please say something. We are so thankful the public stayed with the bird and it was reported in to us. These birds are then given a second chance and it is a privilege to be able to help them. It’s very rewarding.”
The following morning, it was transported to a facility owned and operated by Glen Ellyn-based Willowbrook Wildlife, where veterinarians determined during a blood test that the eagle was not injured, but poisoned by anti-coagulants normally used to kill rats. The poison prevents blood from clotting and causes uncontrolled internal bleeding. Raptors who eat mice and rats (as well as rabbits and squirrels) are then themselves poisoned.
“Eagles are very opportunistic feeders,” Patrick said. “The like to hang out area areas with a lot of water. Often there are mice or rats nearby, and these are the mammals that have originally ingested the poison.”
The poison Patrick referred to is mice- or rat-based traps that are typically placed inside of residential homes for rodent control.
“A lot more birds are getting poisoned because of this,” Lorna Lightle, of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, said. “This is a prime opportunity for people to find an alternative to poison for these in-home rodents, because the bate traps are killing these beautiful birds.”
The eagle is expected to be held for about a month as it is given doses of vitamin K to restore its blood clotting ability, due to damage done by the ingested poison. From there, it will go into flight conditioning.
Staff at Willowbrook Wildlife said things are looking up but it’s important to take it day-by-day. More X-rays and extensive bloodwork were done and the bird was moved in a large outdoor cage on January 6.
“The bloodwork showed the red blood cell count is improving,” Dr. Sarah Reich, lead veterinarian at Willowbrook Wildlife, said. “It’s not yet where we want it to be, but clotting has improved and things are trending in the right direction.”
The 10-pound eagle is believed to be a male by Reich based on its size and markings, even though rescue volunteers believe it to be a female, also based on its size and maturity. Male eagles typically weigh up to 10 pounds, and this one is at the max end of that spectrum; whereas, females weigh between 12-14 pounds, Reich said, so, it is difficult to tell for certain.
Because the eagle is believed to be part of a pair, the plan is to eventually release it back to the forest preserves near where it was found, to continue with nesting season, but not without a name. Whether male or female, rescue volunteer Lightle came up with the perfect name for the majestic bird.
“I named the eagle Betty, after Betty White, who passed away on New Year’s Eve,” Lightle said. “A bald eagle, just like Betty White, is an American icon. I could not think of a name more fitting.”
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