By Julie Ann Madden

Posted April 5, 2018 at 5:00 am

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Alex Lynott, founder and Executive Director of HEART the Wild, is from Hawarden. She rescues sick eagles, and has rescued several since the New Year began.

The Akron Hometowner conducted this interview via emails — as she has been very busy this winter, trying to save eagles found locally.

Can you tell me how many eagles you’ve rescued between Westfield and Hawarden?

I have personally rescued five Bald Eagles since mid-February. Another came in already deceased and another was rescued by a friend/Woodbury County Conservation employee at Stone State Park.

The first was on the Big Sioux River near Hudson, S.D. This one was named Warrior, because it was a Warrior snowmobile that transported me to the eagle and then brought myself and the eagle (holding it against me) back to my pickup. Warrior is continuing to show signs of improvement while in the Intensive Care Unit at Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR).

His lead levels were HIGH, >0.65 ppm — anything over this amount and left untreated, the eagle has zero percent chance surviving on its own. Treatment is not even always successful.

The second eagle was located just south of Remsen. This female had a fractured radius in multiple places. Lead levels were relatively low and not a primary concern for this eagle, but lead did register on the LeadCare II machine. This girl had to be euthanized due to the severity of the break and the fact that the tissues and bones had already died. The wing would not have been able to heal even if a veterinarian placed pins inside the wing.

The third eagle came from the Doon area on the Rock River. This was another ATV rescue, and the weather was awful! We had no daylight, and it was an awful blizzard. I was able to scoop the eagle up via the light of a friend’s head lamp. I hopped on the back of the ATV of the person who found it, and we traveled back up the river for 1.5 miles. I knew right away this eagle was another lead-poisoned case.

Her blood lead levels came back HIGH as well, >0.65 ppm. The Doon female is also still responding well to treatment and has gained her appetite back.

The fourth was another eagle down on the Big Sioux River near Westfield. The ice was starting to go out on the river, so being on the ice and on the back of yet another snowmobile made a few knots in my stomach. I think a few of the snowmobile riders fell through the ice before I had even got to the scene.

Eagle No. 5 came to me already deceased from Lyon County from our Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Game Warden. Its liver will be necropsied and sent off for testing to see if it had lead poisoning.

Eagle No. 6 was rescued by a friend while I was tied up in Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) classes down at Stone State Park. This eagle also had HIGH levels of lead, but I have not heard any updates on it.

The seventh eagle was just this past Sunday, March 25 at Five Ridge Prairie State Preserve. A shed hunter came across this sick-looking eagle in a group of cedar trees. This was quite the hike to get to, and I was as far away from my pickup as one could possibly get. I was able to get a blanket over it and then had to do a lot of sliding on my bottom down all five ridges as I carried it back to my pickup in the cold rain. This eagle did not make it through the next morning. Its liver will also be tested for lead levels.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning and how do the eagles get this? Do other birds get this?

Eagles suffering elevated levels of lead toxicity will exhibit some of the same characteristics, depending how long they have been on the ground. They will almost appear drunk. Their shoulders will be drooped and the wings will not be tucked. Their head may be “bowed” in a down position like they are looking at their feet. Their head may be tilted.

They act like they do not have a fear of you and will let you get very close to them. Some are able to fly for a little ways, but only manage to get about 3 feet off the ground and then have a crash landing.

If they have been in one spot for some time, you will see a lot of bright green mutes (feces) around them. Eagle mutes are usually white with black.

You may also hear them breathing very deep and hard while having an open mouth and panting. There might be a high-pitched chirp with their breathing. Every eagle that I have been called about that ends up having elevated levels of lead in its system has been described as a “sick eagle.”

What is Heart The Wild?

HEART the Wild (Helping Every Animal Return To the Wild) is an organization that I founded about three years ago. I have been a permitted wildlife rehabilitator through the IDNR for about four years.

I started out operating out of one or two pet carriers in my garage, but quickly took in more and more animals. The public was hearing more and more about my rehabilitating efforts, and I was encouraged to create a Facebook page to help educate the public on our local wildlife.

When I created the page, I started out with “Alex’s Wildlife Rehab.” I could not stand seeing my own name on the page, so my eighth grade English teacher came up with HEART the Wild. It stuck.

Now, I am currently in the process of becoming a 501c3 non-profit and building a website that will offer links of information for the public on how to coexist with our wildlife, what to do if you find an injured/orphaned/sick wild animal, patient updates, ways communities can get involved, how to schedule a program, etc.

The surrounding communities have treated me so well with donations. It is the donations that have legitimized HEART the Wild. I do not get paid as a wildlife rehabilitator. I was once told, if you want to make $1 million at wildlife rehab, start with $3 million.

Permits, formulas, bedding, medications, vaccinations, heating pads, enclosures, fruit, vegetables, building supplies, etc. all add up quickly. I used donations last year to apply for a permit that would allow me to take in an educational Screech Owl. It was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and now Aldo Leopold, my Screech Owl, and I can give educational programs on what wildlife rehabilitation is and how community members can help.

I hope one day to have an actual facility where I can have volunteers help keep up with the cleaning, food prep, facility maintenance, etc.

Can you give me some biographical info on yourself?

I was born and raised just on the south side of Hawarden on our family farm. I went to West Sioux and graduated in 2010. I went on to get a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science at Buena Vista University where I also played basketball all four years.

While at college is when I started volunteering for SOAR, and Executive Director Kay Neumann encouraged me to become a rehabilitator. That is also where I heard about the lead poisoning issue in Bald Eagles and saw the results firsthand.

What can people do to prevent lead poisoning in eagles?

Lead poisoning in Bald Eagles is 100 percent preventable. Not often do we get to say that about an issue that is affecting wildlife populations. Non-toxic (not-lead) ammunition can be purchased in slugs, bird shot, and rifle bullets. Popular alternatives are steel shot and solid copper slugs.

What else would you

like readers to know?

This topic can raise a lot of questions for those who have never heard of the issue before.

A lot of times people will fall under the impression that an eagle was shot by a lead bullet and succumbed to lead poisoning that way. That’s not how it works.

Humans can also have lead poisoning. For humans, lead can enter our body by inhalation, skin absorption, or ingestion.

For eagles, it must be ingested. Spent lead ammunition can be ingested by Bald Eagles in multiple different scenarios.

With lead bird shot, a pheasant that was shot and unfortunately never found by a hunter can be scavenged on by a Bald Eagle. They will ingest those pellets while eating the pheasant. It takes two pellets ingested to kill a Bald Eagle. Kill, even with treatment.

Pheasants and mourning doves will also ingest spent lead shot on the ground as grit for their gizzards to grind food. They will die and be scavenged on by an eagle.

Another way is with lead slugs and deer carcasses. When a lead slugs hits the body of a deer, it fragments into hundreds of tiny pieces. Lead is a very soft and malleable metal. These fragments scatter around the wound; in organs and muscles.

The deer, if found, is field dressed and the gut pile is left behind for our scavengers. However, lead fragments are also left behind.

It takes a lead fragment the size of a grain of rice to kill a Bald Eagle.

How do we know? X-rays. Eagles are X-rayed and their stomachs will glow with lead fragments. At this point, the eagles have already passed away and their livers and stomachs are necropsy-tested in labs. The metal fragments are tested through isotope analysis and come back matching that of lead ammunition.

What also is not being addressed hard enough is the fact that the part of the deer our hunters bring home and to the locker also contains lead fragments which then is put on our dinner tables.

SOAR once x-rayed 50 ground venison packages and 38 came back with several lead fragments scattered around the packaged meat.

Treatment

Once the lead fragments enter the eagle’s stomach, the stomach acids start to break them down and release their toxins into the bloodstream. Lead has the ability to mimic calcium once inside the body, so the blood stream absorbs it as such.

One of the first things affected by the toxins is the eagle’s brain. The toxins cause the brain to swell, often times putting pressure on the optical nerves and causing sever vision impairments for the eagle. This swelling will also induce seizures in the eagles.

Their respiratory system is affected and that’s why we always hear very labored breathing.

Lead is absorbed into the brain and into the bones as calcium and will never ever leave the body.

Treatment is not always successful. About 10 percent of lead-poisoned eagles will make it through treatment, but not necessarily be able to be released due to the severity of the brain damage.

About 5 percent of eagle patients survive treatment and are able to be released back into the wild.

The treatment is a process called chelation. It is a series of two shots a day for up to six weeks. The injections contain EDTA, a chemical that once inside the bloodstream binds to the lead. It forms a brand new compound that the eagle’s kidneys and liver can process. Slowly the lead toxicity is eliminated. It is a very taxing treatment process.

The public is quick to blame hunters for this issue. Hunters are not intentionally killing eagles and most hunters are environmentalists themselves who truly care about the overall health of our ecosystems.

Those of us researching and educating on this issue are not blaming hunters. In fact, most involved with SOAR are hunters themselves. We are simply trying to educate our outdoors men and outdoors women on what lead does once it is put into our environment as ammunition.

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