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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Jefferson is an adult male American bald eagle who lives at Soarin' Hawk Raptor Rehab. 

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Mike Dobbs of Soarin’ Hawk holds a container with a pellet inside that an eagle ingested after eating an animal that was killed with lead shot.

Sunday, April 23, 2017 1:00 am

Soarin' Hawk reminder: Lead is deadly to eagles

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

The eagle arrived at the Soarin' Hawk Raptor Rehab in late March, and the bird was a mess.

Nothing was broken, but its head was twisted under its body, it couldn't stand, and it couldn't eat.

People at Soarin' Hawk took a blood sample from the bird, but it was five days before they got the results. The bird was suffering from lead poisoning.

Lead attacks the nervous system, and as the poisoning advances, it basically leaves a bird paralyzed.

Once the bird was diagnosed, treatment was started, and the bird improved somewhat, but then on April 13, it died. The volunteers trying to help it cried.

In a necropsy the cause of the bird's condition was discovered. It had apparently eaten an animal that had been shot with buckshot, and the bird had swallowed a single piece of shot. It was enough to kill it.

Lead shot has been banned for the hunting of waterfowl because the shot falls in the water where it contaminates fish and the water.

But on land, lead shot is still used by hunters.

“If you use lead, here's what happens,” said Mike Dobbs, Soarin' Hawk's vice president.

Dobbs said Soarin' Hawk isn't going to take any stand on lead shot. All that will do is alienate half the population, Dobbs said 

Instead Soarin' Hawk just reminds people that lead shot can be deadly to birds of prey, and there are alternatives to lead, such as copper coated steel.

After that event, Soarin' Hawk put out a plea for help to buy its own machine to test blood, and people quickly responded. Now it can get blood test results almost immediately.

But that's just the first step in what Soarin' Hawk hopes will be big changes.

Soarin' Hawk got its start in the 1990s in a man's back yard near Leo-Cedarville. There was plenty of room for the 20 volunteers and the 20 birds they had. The operation was never intended to be permanent.

They intended to move within three or four years, but today, 20 years later, they're still in the same spot – with 200 volunteers and 250 birds.

The organization has some money set aside, but it needs more. It will be launching a fundraising drive soon.

The hope is to buy up to 20 acres. That will provide enough room for a nature preserve, a home for birds used for educational purposes and a place for birds that have recovered from injuries to start flying again.

The amount needed will be $350,000 to $500,000, not including labor to build the shelters for the birds.

“Once we have the land we can approach corporations and foundations,” Dobbs said.

The group has set a date of December 2018 to be in a larger home, Dobbs said. If you don't set a date, it will never get done, he said.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.