WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY/AP) — A bald eagle was released back into the wild from a park in Williamsburg on Wednesday.
It was one of two bald eagles that suffered pentobarbital poisoning after scavenging a deer carcass. The drug is used to euthanize animals, including deer.
The eagle was released at noon on Wednesday at York River State Park in James City County. The second eagle needs more recovery time.
Hundreds gathered at York River State Park for the special celebration.
Staffers from the Wildlife Center of Virginia and the Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation were on hand to release a bald eagle they thought would never make it to this day.
“I’ve seen poisoned eagles before. I’ve seen a lot of lead poisoning but I’ve never seen a bird come in that sick or that poisoned,” said Diana O’Connor, who works for Wild Bunch.
According to the Wildlife Center’s website, two bald eagles were brought to the center after they were found poisoned in the woods on November 15.
Staffers say the eagles were eating a deer carcass that died after a veterinarian euthanized the animal. They say highway workers took the carcass to the woods, where the eagles had access to it. Highway workers returned to find the eagles on the verge of death.
“I call them miracle birds, because I didn’t think they’d make it. They were really, really bad,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor says the center treated the birds before driving them from Warsaw to the Wildlife Center in Waynesboro that night.
Ed Clark, the president and co-founder of the center, says humans helped cause the problem, but they also helped fix it.
“When an animal has been euthanized with lethal chemicals, it’s supposed to be buried, but this was taken to a remote area and tossed out by highway workers,” Clark said.
Wednesday, Clark took pride in showing off one of the eagles, recently healed from the poisoning, to those gathered at the park.
Clark, who has seen his share of releases, says the center has cared for more than 30 eagles this past year. He says in the 1970s, there were less than 100 bald eagles in Virginia and today, there are up to 6,000 throughout the state.
Clark says one of the biggest problems eagles face is poisoning, especially lead poisoning from the ammunition hunters use. He says hunters dispose of deer organs with shards of lead intact and that it only takes lead the size of a grain of rice to kill a bald eagle within 72 hours.
“This is a real problem, and we need to convince sportsman to switch to non lead ammunition when they hunt,” he said.
Clark says the problem can easily be solved to prevent poisons by using cooper ammunition to allow all eagles across the state to enjoy their freedom like the eagle they released today.
“We frankly were very pessimistic about their chances but they had a great will to live and as evidence by beautifully as that bird flew, he was happy to be out in the wild as were are to have released him, ” he said.
The second bald eagle is still recovering at the Wildlife Center.