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Giving an injured bald eagle a fighting chance | News

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Giving an injured bald eagle a fighting chance
News, Urban Wildlife
Giving an injured bald eagle a fighting chance

Updated: 8:51 a.m. - Dr. Luther McConnell checked on the bald eagle this morning. He's still standing and looking a little better, but he says this isn't something you can hurry along. 

"It hasn't been 24 hours yet. After 48 hours we'll have a good idea of his chances. Right now it's really dicey," McConnell said. "He's doing as well as expected under circumstances."

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Cradled in a blanket, a man brought a bald eagle to Mt. Spokane Veterinary Hospital Friday afternoon. The bird was found gravely ill and clogging traffic near Nine Mile Road and Francis. The adult male could barely stand when he was brought to the  hospital. Veterinary staff understood the chances for his survival. A wild animal would never let a human handle them unless it knew the end was near.

"For about an hour I thought it was dead," Dr. Matt Schmidt said. When the eagle was brought in, he immediately vomited up rotting flesh and bones. He couldn't contain the diarrhea either. That was four hours before KXLY laid eyes on the eagle. Hospital staff say he was starting to look better. He could stand strong and exert the energy to even glance toward the cameras.

The survival rate is low for bald eagles brought into shelters. This is the second eagle this year, Schmidt said. On average, the hospital only deals with two to three bald eagles annually. The first one was taken to Washington State University’s veterinary school where its condition did not improve. It was put down.

The man who dropped the eagle off says he was hit by a SUV, but the preliminary x-ray showed no fractured bones.

It takes a doctor licensed for wildlife rehabilitation to handle eagles. That’s Dr. Luther McConnell, one of two in Spokane County. The other is at WSU. When McConnell checked the bird’s heartbeat, he was displaying more strength. He flailed his wings while vet staff held him down. Unraveling, a tube, it was time to flush the bird’s system of any remaining toxins. If whatever ailed him didn't kill him sooner, it's the next moment that could.

"Don't stress. Don't die," McConnell repeated to himself.

They struggled to hold him down. He wasn't prepared for the insertion of a catheter. The operating room was silent except for the sound of the bird's building stress - panting. With fluids being replenished, the eagle could rest and come down from the intense moment on the slab. Even when placed in his cage, the panting continued.

McConnell said they'll have to wait and see how his condition goes and if he survives the night.

"He's passing blood [in stool] which tells me there's a chance of other internal injuries I haven't begun to explore," McConnell said. "Birds are kind of funny. They'll pretend to act healthy until they die."

A possible cause for illness could be something it ate which explains the putrid vomiting and diarrhea. Bald eagles are opportunistic birds, sometimes scavenging what they can when they can’t access fresh fish.

“Most of the time they can handle some dead stuff, but not rotten,” McConnell said.

The eagle’s improvement is still a good sign, but McConnell says they're not out of the woods yet. "In my experience, the survival rate for any bird hit by a car... 20% is doing really well," McConnell added. "We'll let him rest. Tomorrow is a new day."

Treating wildlife at the hospital is done through donations. The hospital asks if anyone wishes to help fund current and future efforts to help local wildlife, you can make a contribution by calling (509) 238-1585. The hospital is located at 17117 N. Newport Highway in Mead. 

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