AUBURN — Ken Audet was stunned as he looked at Lake Auburn through his living room window.

The view was different that morning: Audet saw something floating in the water, close to a rock near shore.

A bald eagle lies sick in a box after being found floating in Lake Auburn by Ken Audet in early October. Experts say the bird was likely poisoned by eating the remains of a euthanized animal. The animal was later released back into the wild by Avian Haven. Submitted photo

Audet walked down and discovered a bald eagle with its wings outstretched. It was still alive, but after a few failed attempts to fly, the bird stopped moving and seemed to struggle with breathing.

Audet called the Maine State Police, who put him in touch with the Maine Warden Service.

Given it was a Sunday and the last day of the Fryeburg Fair, the chances of a game warden coming to Audet’s house were slim.

Audet wrapped the bald eagle in a towel, placed it into a box and carried it to his house.

When Audet checked the bird, he noticed it had regurgitated what looked like red meat.

“Its mouth was full of meat. It was stuffed,” he said. “I reached in and pulled all this (stuff) out of its mouth, because it looked like it was blocking its passageway.

“I pulled out a big piece and it took a deep breath and opened its eyes, once, the only time they were open. I reached inside the beak with my fingers. That thing looks scary up close. I mean, it looks like a snapping turtle.”

Audet called Avian Haven, a nonprofit wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom. Bird rehabilitators from Avian Haven soon arrived at Audet’s house.

“Nobody thought it was going to live,” Audet said. “Even the (employees) at the Haven didn’t think it was going to make it.”  

The bird rehabilitators reportedly noticed some concerning issues with the bald eagle. It was “lethargic, debilitated acting and vomiting,” according to Diane Winn, executive director and co-founder of the rehabilitation center.

“We assumed it might be some kind of toxin exposure,” Winn said, “but that was just a supposition.”

Based on that hunch, the rehabilitators gave the eagle activated charcoal, an all-purpose treatment for exposure to toxins, according to Winn. By the next day, the eagle was standing on its own, which surprised veterinarians.

A blood test performed by staff members from Avian Haven revealed the bald eagle had a negligible amount of lead in its system. Meantime, agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tested the bird’s vomit, revealing a chemical often used in veterinary euthanasia. 

While eagles are known for hunting their food, they sometimes feed on dead animals. Accidental poisoning from toxic carcasses is not uncommon, according to Special Agent Brian Engelhard of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

About 10 eagles a year are injured or killed from some type of human involvement or interaction in Maine, according to officials.

Everything from euthanized carcass toxins — eagles eating a dead mouse that had rat poison in it — to deliberate poisoning of eagles, car-eagle collisions, shootings, wind turbine collisions,” Engelhard said. 

Poisonings are often the result of animal remains not being buried properly, according to Engelhard. Regulations set by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry list proper disposal methods, such as incineration, composting or burial.

Although bald eagles are no longer listed under the Endangered Species Act, they are still federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The maximum penalties for killing an eagle are five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The bald eagle rescued in Auburn was kept under observation until Nov. 11, when it was released back into the wild.

Federal Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they are continuing their investigation to determine how the eagle was poisoned.


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