Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Eagle Has Landed .. And It's Dying!

What's the connection between rats and our national symbol, the bald eagle? Unfortunately, it's a deadly one, for both the rodents and eagles. 

There have been a number of cases of eagles (and other species) consuming mice and rats that had been poisoned with rodenticides. An eagle, having eaten a dead or dying poisoned rodent, thereby becomes poisoned.

A few days ago, an adult female bald eagle known as "MK" (from her leg band id) was found on the ground in an Arlington, MA, cemetery. 

"MK", poisoned bald eagle

While MK floundered on the ground, unable to fly, her mate "KZ" watched from treetops above. The pair is well known by the eagle-watching public, who see them in the Boston area Mystic River watershed.

A group of rescuers led by wildlife rehabilitator Linda Amato and expert tree climber Andrew Joslin, captured the sickened bird, which was rushed to New England Wildlife Center's Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, MA.

The diagnosis: MK had likely ingested a second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide (SGAR). These poisons prevent blood from clotting, causing victims to bleed internally; they then either bleed to death or become too weak to eat, and starve.


MK in 2021 (© PS Joyce)
Linda Amato & MK (© Andrew Joslin)












The staff at Cape Wildlife Center worked diligently to stabilize MK and bring her back to health, which would probably take months if successful. 


(Cape Wildlife Center photo)
MK (Cape Wildlife Center photo)









But sadly, the rat poison damage was devastating, and MK died not long after arriving at the wildlife hospital. 

Cape Wildlife Center posted this statement (3/1/23) on their Facebook page:

"We will know more when the diagnostics come back, but it appears she (MK) spontaneously hemorrhaged and began bleeding internally. With the poison in her system she did not have the ability to clot and the bleeding was catastrophic and began to occlude her airway.
Our veterinary team was by her side when it happened and was able to quickly clear her airway and intubate her, provide emergency drugs and fluids as her heart rate slowed, and eventually worked to do compressions to revive her. Sadly it was not enough to bring her back. She was gone in a matter of minutes.
It was always hard to watch a patient in this condition, but MK was particularly devastating. We know how well loved she is here in the Baystate and how many people her presence inspired to connect with our natural environments and the wildlife in them. We hope her case will serve as a true wake up call for people to stop using SGARS, and will ultimately lead to true systemic change. It is time to restrict the use of these poisons. Rodent control does not need to come at the expense of our natural heritage and ecosystem.
We want to sincerely thank everyone who has shared their concern, kind words, and worked to get MK help. Our hearts go out to KZ and all of the people who loved her."


What can be done?  

These SGAR rodenticides are used in "bait boxes" that can often be seen placed around commercial buildings to kill rodents. Poisoned rodents are far too often subsequently eaten by mammals, and raptors such as eagles, owls, and hawks, who are then poisoned, and often die. Use of these poisons should be banned. 
There are two Massachusetts bills you can support: HD 577 and SD1144 sponsored by Representative Hawkins and Senator Feeney. Read more about these bills at the MSPCA website

Here is a photo of Andrew Joslin holding a barred owl that was poisoned by consuming a rodent that had eaten rodenticide. The owl, named "Owen", was captured near Faneuil Hall in Boston and treated by Erin Parsons Hutchings at the Cape Ann Wildlife Center in Gloucester, MA. 
Andrew Joslin  (© Erin Parsons Hutchings)


A look back

Jim Joyce and his wife Patty are eagle enthusiasts from eastern Massachusetts who have watched and photographed MK and KZ over the years. They were kind enough to share some photos and information about the eagle pair:

  • April, 2016: MK was hatched in Waltham, MA, along the Charles River.
  • Fall 2016: she left the area and flew as far south as Delaware for the 1st year.
  • 2018: returned to the Mystic River Watershed.
  • 2020: MK and KZ (hatched 2015, Webster MA) became a mated pair, nested along the lower Mystic Lake. The first year nest resulted in a
    failed hatch as an intruding male bald eagle from NY disturbed the nest, eggs, and chicks. 
  • 2021: MK and KZ nested in a new location. They hatched eaglets "25C" and "26C" in April.  25C died from SGAR poisoning 3 weeks after it fledged. 26C
    left the area in the fall and made it as far as Delaware, where it was killed in a vehicle strike.
  • 2022: MK and KZ hatched 2 eaglets "29C" and "46C" in April. Both eaglets successfully fledged and dispersed in September, 2022. 29C was found with an injured leg and required euthanasia. 46C is still flying.
  • 2023: MK and KZ are in the middle of their mating period when MK is poisoned and dies. KZ is still in the area and under watch for possible rodenticide poisoning.


MK, KZ - 2021 (© PS Joyce)

MK, 46C, 29C - 2022 (© Jim Joyce)    


MK in flight (© Jim Joyce)