Bald Eagle and Marsh Hawk Found in Onondaga County are Recovering After Ingesting Household Toxins

Feb 2, 2018

This juvenile bald eagle was found along the road in Onondaga County with a broken wing. Bald eagles grow their white head feathers when they reach adulthood.
Credit Melissa Osgood / Cornell University

A bald eagle and hawk are recovering after Cornell University wildlife experts say they suffered acute poisoning.  Both were found lethargic and unable to fly, and both are classified by the DEC as threatened in New York State.  Despite the uncertain outlook when they were picked up, both raptors made unexpected recoveries.  Here are their stories, as provided by Cornell media relations:


A state DEC officer in Onondaga County noticed the juvenile bald eagle on the side of the road and brought him to the Wildlife Health Center at Cornell.  Doctors discovered he was suffering from high lead levels and a wing fracture.  They say the poisoned eagle likely ingested lead by eating an animal shot with lead ammunition.  The toxic metal can affect mental state and movement, and doctors say it's possible the eagle's wing fracture happened after exposure.

Clinicians show the wingspan of the eagle. The cardboard is placed on his tail to prevent breakage.
Credit Melissa Osgood / Cornell University

"Even normal activities such as catching food and navigating flights and landings can be compromised by lead toxicity,” said Sara Childs-Sanford, chief of service at the center.

In March 2017, the federal government lifted a ban on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on federal lands and waters in an effort to increase hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities in national parks.

Legislation regarding the use of these toxic substances by people has a major impact on the frequency and severity with which they affect wildlife,” said Childs-Sanford. “This will certainly result in a surge in lead toxicity affecting the wildlife in these vast natural areas.”

The eagle has since been discharged to a rehabilitator, where he'll stay until his wing fracture heals.  


The poisoned northern harrier (marsh hawk).
Credit Melissa Osgood / Cornell University

The northern harrier was found on the Syracuse University campus after a bystander saw a red-tailed haw attack it.  He was taken to Cornell's Wildlife Health Center, where doctors discovered a low red blood cell count.  That and poor ability to clot at the sampling site led doctors to conclude he was poisoned by rodenticide, likely after catching a small mammal that had ingested the poison.  Childs-Sanford says the raptor was lucky.

"If we had not given him the antidote to the toxin in time, he definitely would have died," she said.

The hawk will finish a month-long antidote course with a licensed rehabilitator, who will then release him into the wild.  

Cornell clinicians say while the two birds might have a happy ending, most of the cases involving these toxins do not survive.  Child-Sanford says many more died in the while without anyone knowing.  She says rapid diagnosis and immediate treatment made these two raptors part of a fortunate minority.