Cause of bald eagle’s injury unknown

This bloody bald eagle was found by deer hunters in Rankin County Sunday, and it is recovering in a Jackson animal hospital.

Hunters found the bloody raptor Sunday in Rankin County near Barnett Reservoir

Veterinarians treating a bald eagle found Sunday by hunters in Rankin County near Barnett Reservoir are “encouraged” by its recovery, but still do not know what led to the raptor’s dire condition.

“He is improving,” said Dr. Jonathan Faulkner of the North State Animal and Bird Hospital in Jackson. “We’ve been treating it with antibiotics and it is eating. That was important step, getting it to eat. It ate a little bit Monday and little on Tuesday, but Wednesday into today it ate everything we put in the cage.

“At this rate, I would think we will be contacting the animal rehabbers, turn it over to them and they can begin working to get it to start flying so it can be released.”

The story began Sunday when a member of the Three Prong Hunting Club near Sand Hill spotted a bald eagle near a road and stopped to enjoy the rare sight.

“It was a friend of mine and he called to tell me about it and that it wasn’t flying away,” said Jimmie Nichols of Morton. “I told him I’d be right over. Before I got there, they found the injured eagle in a small ditch nearby.

“It was lucky that he saw the healthy eagle, because if he had continued driving, as close as the injured eagle was to the truck, he might have run right over it.”

Nichols contacted wildlife officials and took photos of the injured bird. The pictures show a startled eagle with its head a bloody mess, a sight that pushed the story to the forefront after the images were first posted on Facebook and then picked up by Jackson media. It was later discovered that the bird had no injuries to its head.

“It looked bad, really bad,” Nichols said. “You could see a puddle of blood on the ground right where its head had been, so my first thought was that it had either been beat up by the other eagle or it had been shot.”

State wildlife officials contacted a local animal rescue and rehab group that came and retrieved the eagle.

A possible shooting of our nation’s symbol became the focus of the story when X-rays at the Animal and Bird Hospital showed what appears to be three round metal pellets in the eagle’s body, one near the shoulder and the others in the groin and lower body area.

Wildlife officials announced a $2,500 reward offer for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the shooting.

However, Dr. Faulkner said it is unlikely that the pellets are what left the eagle in its dire life-threatening conditions.

“No, I don’t think so, because there doesn’t appear to be any wounds associated with those pellets,” he said. “I believe that the trouble is in a wound in the groin area that was infected. What caused it, I can’t say but it appears to be from some kind of puncture wound.”

He said it could have been from a fight with an eagle, but added “that I doubt it was from the bird found with it. A more likely scenario was that it was this eagle’s mate and that it had tried to feed it (with fresh kill). That would explain the blood on the injured eagle’s head.”

It would also explain the puddle of blood Nichols noticed on the ground.

“That makes the most sense to me,” said Nichols, who didn’t report any signs of an eagle fight in the vicinity. “I do think now that this was a mating pair and that the healthy one, which eventually flew away, was trying to feed its mate and standing guard over it.”

Faulkner said the X-rays were not taken to search for possible evidence of a shooting, but instead looking for a cause of why the bird would not fly.

“It is routine when we get a big bird that won’t fly to X-ray and look for broken wings or other injuries,” he said. “This bird does not appear to have any broken bones. It just didn’t want to fly.”

Asked if the pellets could have been the result of the eagle ingesting them while eating an injured game animal or bird, like a squirrel, rabbit, dove or duck, Faulkner said he doubted it. He said the location of the pellets on the X-ray would refute that explanation.

He also said to his knowledge no blood tests had been done to check for lead toxicity, and that since the bird has responded so well to the antibiotics it would indicate the problem is related more to infection.

About Bobby Cleveland 1342 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.