WILTON — Residents around Wilson Lake were saddened to learn an American Bald Eagle they’ve enjoyed watching has succumbed to lead poisoning.

An ice fisherman notified Maine Game Warden Daniel Christianson that the bird had fallen out of a tree. Christianson said he picked it up before daylight on Jan. 19 and transported it to Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom.

It wasn’t injured but was definitely sick, he said.

X-rays showed a metal fragment it its intestinal tract, Diane Winn of Avian Haven said. Blood tests showed lead levels that were off the charts, she added. 

Winn attempted to treat the bird, but it died Jan. 21.

The source of the metal is unknown but it appears to be a piece of spent ammunition, she said. As scavengers, birds can ingest pieces of lead from a carcass left in the field or a field dressed deer.

It was not from a metal sinker or weight used for fishing, she said.

According to information from the Avian Haven website, lead ammunition is soft and it shatters into tiny fragments that are left in the meat and carcasses of the animal. The lead ammunition can also affect humans.

It only takes a small amount to be fatal for an eagle. According to the website, “one researcher says a lethal dose can be only 40 milligrams or less. For comparison, a standard aspirin tablet is 325 mg.”

The source of lead in this bird was probably near the lake, she said. She thought the poisoning occurred within just two or three days.

Birds with lead poisoning become weak and lethargic, sometimes unable to fly, walk of stand. The poisonous metal damages red blood cells affecting their body’s ability to transport oxygen to organs. They go into respiratory distress, she said.

The Avian Haven website recommends gun owners purchase ammunition without lead.

Finding a gold band on the bird’s foot, Winn spoke with the bander and learned the bird was banded from the nest in Massachusetts in 1995. 

The record age for aneagle in the wild is in the low 30s, she said.

Residents have been watching an eagle around Wilson Lake since 2010. It has been seen perching in pine trees, especially around the head of the lake, and on Goat Island, with no sign of a mate or eaglets, Mary Ryan of Wilton said.

“Folks around here have mixed feelings,” Muller said. “They are gorgeous but they tend to harass the loons, especially the babies. We still love watching it though and taking photos. We’re upset something has happened to it.”

Summer resident Wayne Smith of Pennsylvania shared photos of an eagle in the trees. This one had red and silver bands; the red one indicates banding in Maine.

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