Written by Anamaria Cruz
It was a blustery, cold January afternoon, and my pager shift was nearly over. Just as I was walking to hand off my pager to my teammates on the next shift, the pager buzzed – once, then again. Two patients, both raptors, both sounding like they were suffering from head trauma. The first patient, a red-tailed hawk, had obvious signs of external trauma, broken bones, blood from the nares. It was started on fluid therapy designed to reduce swelling within the skull. The other patient was a bald eagle – presenting with similar neurologic signs, but, mysteriously, lacking any external damage. The triage team conducted a nervous system exam, and suspected poisoning. After a challenging blood draw and an anxious wait by the in-house lead analyzer, the culprit was revealed: sky-high levels of lead.
In January 2018, the Wildlife Medical Clinic received three adult bald eagles over the course of two weeks. All three patients presented with severe neurologic signs, including torticollis (abnormally twisting neck muscles), head-turning, ventroflexion (head cranked downwards), ataxia (incoordination), and weakness.