Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee treating sick bald eagle


An adult bald eagle found unable to fly Friday near a nest in Bay View and taken in for treatment has died, according to the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee.

The bird was believed to be one of a pair that constructed a nest this year in the urban neighborhood on Milwaukee’s south side.

It died Saturday afternoon, the WHS’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center announced in a Facebook post.

The eagle was clearly sickened but it’s too early to say what it was suffering from, said Crystal Sharlow-Schaefer, WHS wildlife director.

The post said its symptoms were consistent with the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) currently spreading through domestic and wild birds in North America, but WHS was waiting on test results to confirm that. Those results won’t be available for several days.

After admission Friday the eagle was given a general evaluation and blood samples were taken for testing, including for lead poisoning. It received hydration, pain medication and other supportive care Saturday. 

The influenza strain, called EA H5N1, has been documented in 31 states as of Friday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So far about 23 million birds have died, mostly through depopulations at poultry farms, and it is considered the worst avian flu outbreak in seven years.

The virus has been found in Wisconsin in poultry flocks in Barron, Jefferson, Racine and Rock counties and has been linked to the deaths of wild birds in Milwaukee County (Canada goose), Columbia County (lesser scaup), Dane County (bald eagle and Cooper’s hawk), Grant County (red-tailed hawk) and Polk County (trumpeter swan).

As a result of the H5N1 outbreak, WHS staff who collected the eagle in Bay View wore extra protective gear and the bird was housed in a separate, outdoor treatment area at the facility, Sharlow-Schaefer said.

The procedures are in place to protect the other animals at the WHS’ wildlife rehabilitation center.

The news of the stricken eagle is a sobering development in an otherwise celebratory season for the species in Milwaukee County.

In March, the Department of Natural Resources, Madison Audubon and Milwaukee County Parks Department officials announced four nests in Milwaukee County, including the first active (with eggs or eaglets) nests in modern history. Milwaukee County was the last of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to have a documented eagle nest.

Two of the Milwaukee County nests are deemed active and two, including the Bay View site, are considered “playing house” with no egg-laying but potential for breeding activity and chick production in subsequent years.

More: Highly pathogenic avian influenza found in wild birds in several Wisconsin counties, including a bald eagle

More: Smith: From mayflies on the Mississippi to bird migration after dark, BirdCast radar tracks creatures in flight

More: The snowy owl found in Milwaukee covered in oil has been successfully returned to the wild

The eagles have been a wonderful addition to Bay View, an urban area on Milwaukee’s south side, said resident Suzanne Jurva.

“These birds are so majestic,” Jurva said. “Everybody was very respectful of them. They even helped us, in our neighborhood that is already a little nest where we try to take care of each other, get even closer.”

Jurva said she observed the eagle pair in midweek and one was in an unusual, “guarding” position in a tree. 

She was working at home Friday when she saw the sick eagle on the ground. Minutes later the WHS crew captured it and took it away.

To help monitor the avian flu outbreak, the DNR asks the public to report waterfowl, waterbirds, raptors (especially bald eagles) and avian scavengers such as crows, ravens and gulls showing tremors, circling movement or holding their heads in an unusual position. These symptoms may be a sign of HPAI, according to the agency.

Reports can be made to the DNR Wildlife Hotline by emailing to  DNRWildlifeSwitchboard@wi.gov or by leaving a voicemail message for a return phone call at (608) 267-0866.

The DNR recommends people wear gloves if they have to contact a sick or dead bird. After contact, wash your hands with soap and water and throw away any gloves.

Due to the finding of HPAI in domestic flocks, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has prohibited Wisconsin poultry shows and exhibits through May 31.

The spread of the disease has heightened concern among volunteers with the Madison Audubon bald eagle nest watch project. Among the questions: what effect will the virus have on eaglets and 2022 nest production?

“I’m not in despair yet, but I am very worried,” said Beth Berger Martin, a nest watch volunteer from Lake Geneva. “But for now, I’m hanging on this – the two active Milwaukee County nests are still active and the adult eagles are showing all the right signs. That keeps me going.”

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

2022-04-09 18:34:04