In a first for the Napanee-area wildlife rescue organization, the Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre (SPWC) has rescued a rare Golden Eagle.
The Golden Eagle is classified as Endangered by the Government of Ontario, meaning that the species lives in the wild in Ontario but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation. It is believed that there are only ten to twenty pairs of the species in the entire province.
“This large raptor came in with a lung infection. He had been hanging around the finder’s home for several days,” said Leah Birmingham, a Registered Veterinary Technologist and the SPWC’s Assistant Director, in a social media post about the rescue.
It was clear immediately that the male raptor was in trouble, Birmingham said. “One of our volunteers went out to see if he was easy to catch, (and) when he was, we knew he needed help!”
Birmingham said they initially thought the bird might have been an adolescent Bald Eagle, as their premature plumage bears a strong resemblance to that of an adult Golden Eagle and they are more common in the area, but further investigation confirmed it was, in fact, the rarer Golden Eagle.
Healthy adult Golden Eagles have a wingspan of just over two metres and can weigh as much as six kilograms, but this male, a young sub-adult, was significantly underweight at only 2.6 kilograms, Birmingham said in an interview.
Birmingham explained that, at first, they were concerned about lead poisoning, a common occurrence as the birds eat carrion and prey that have been killed or injured by lead pellets, but blood testing showed no lead poisoning. X-rays revealed no ingested foreign materials. Further tests revealed some scarring in one of the eagle’s eyes as well as a serious lung infection. “We think the eye injury made it difficult for him to hunt,” said Birmingham, which likely stressed the animal and allowed for an opportunistic infection to set in.
SPWC could see the extent of the eagle’s weakness by its affect and behaviour. “On Day 1 in rehab, (it kept its) head down, spending time on the lowest perch. This is a very weak bird,” Birmingham said.
By the eighth day of care, the eagle had recovered dramatically and was clearly “much stronger, holding his head up, very aware of our presence in his space,” Birmingham said.
The eagle has been on antibiotics and antifungals since it arrived at the centre on the 28th, according to Birmingham. “He is gaining strength, putting on weight and almost ready to move out to a flight conditioning aviary,” Birmingham said.
It is scheduled to be transferred to a larger aviary today, where it will begin reconditioning, and then go to their largest aviary for additional physical rehabilitation before it is released back into the wild, once it can demonstrate sustained and stable flight.
Wildlife rescues such as this one are only feasible with support from the public, said Birmingham, and thanked the generous community that makes the work at SPWC possible. “We cover a large area and the logistics are sometimes a little overwhelming,” she said, noting that the rescue of an animal like this often involves time-consuming and expensive items such as X-rays, blood tests, and eye exams.
Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre relies heavily on donations for maintenance and supplies, and currently receives no government funding, according to the organization. “Donations make his care possible, without your support this bird would have died in the wild,” Birmingham said. SPWC is a registered charity and donations of $20.00 or more receive an income tax receipt. Donations can be made here. Cheques may also be mailed Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre at 8749 County Rd 2, Napanee, ON, K7R3L1.