WINLOCK — It took about five days for the young eagle to recover from eating poisoned horse meat, but it took just seconds for him to return to business as usual when he was set free.
Wednesday afternoon, a crowd that included Portland bird enthusiasts, TV news crews, a Native American drummer and a children’s day camp group gathered in a Winlock pasture to watch as the first of seven eagles sickened by tainted horse meat returned to the wild.
Wearing a pair of long, talon-proof gloves, Lacy Campbell, manager of the Audubon Society’s Wildlife Care Center in Portland, reached into a box and took the energetic young bird by his legs.
Campbell had driven from Portland to Winlock to retrieve the juvenile eagle from the same spot on Friday night after learning it had taken ill.
The Audubon Society didn’t learn until later in the weekend that at least six other eagles also had been sickened as a result of eating the barbiturate-saturated flesh of two recently euthanized horses, Campbell said. While carrion-eating birds do sometimes get lead poisoning after eating animals permeated with lead shot, this type of poisoning is relatively rare, Campbell said.
Audubon caregivers initially thought that perhaps the eagle had been injured in a territorial dispute (even though it’s rare for juvenile birds to get into fights over territory), but an X-ray didn’t reveal any obvious injuries or medical problems.
“It was really lethargic. We weren’t sure what was going on with it,” Campbell said.
In the meantime, they gave the bird lots of fluids and observed its health carefully while it recuperated.
“We just kind of left it alone,” Campbell explained. That approach worked well. By the end of the weekend, Campbell said, the bird was flying inside the facility’s flight cages.
When he was released on Wednesday, the bird was as good as new.
As soon as he saw light, he stretched his head out of the box and began vigorously flapping his outstretched wings. Campbell held on briefly, waiting for the bird to orient itself before letting go.
Eagles often take a couple of moments to hop around and gain their bearings when they are released, Audubon spokeswoman Tinsley Hunsdorfer said. But the moment Campbell lifted the eagle toward the sky, he took flight, heading straight for a nearby stand of evergreens. He stayed in the area for several minutes, circling high above the pasture.
The eagles’ accidental poisoning is a good opportunity to improve public awareness about human activities, like leaving bullets or carcasses in the wild, that could inadvertently harm wildlife, Campbell said.
“It’s just about thinking about what you’re doing in your environment — trying to be aware of what you’re doing, and what you’re putting out there,” she said.