Bald eagles trapped in Charles Co. pond rescued by copter

4 survive, are treated at city zoo

3 others die

May 08, 2002|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Seven young bald eagles mired in a sludge pond at a Charles County gravel quarry prompted a dramatic helicopter rescue yesterday by state and federal wildlife workers.

Three of the eagles died and the other four were taken to the Baltimore Zoo hospital last night for emergency veterinary care.

Rescuers revived the injured eagles by scraping mud from their nostrils, said John Porcari, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The three that died appeared to have suffocated, he said.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section about the rescue of four bald eagles in Charles County incorrectly identified a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He is Charles F. Porcari. The Sun regrets the error.

DNR and zoo officials said they knew of no other single incident in Maryland in which so many of the majestic birds were injured or killed.

Zoo associate veterinarian Mary Denver said the young birds were "regular mud balls" when they arrived at the hospital about 6 p.m. Denver said the 1- to 2-year-old eagles were exhausted and suffering from "white muscle disease," an affliction that can strike animals - and humans - pushed past their physical limits.

"The muscles produce toxins that affect the heart, and that's what we're most worried about," Denver said.

The birds were rescued from an open pit filled with silt left from gravel mining operations at a disused quarry near the town of Nanjemoy, Porcari said. The densely wooded area near the Potomac River is thick with nesting eagles.

Bald eagles, once on the verge of extinction, have made a strong comeback in the Chesapeake Bay region and nationwide. A record number nested along the bay's shores this year. They are listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act and are protected under federal law.

Because so many eagles are gathered in the area, the younger birds must settle for less-than-ideal territories, such as the gravel mine, Denver said.

Porcari said state biologists found the young eagles mired in "a very quicksand-like muck," which made it impossible for rescuers to reach them on foot or by boat.

Denver said one eagle probably spotted a smaller bird trapped in the mire, landed in the pit intending to prey on it, and became trapped in turn. The other birds probably were attracted by its struggles and were caught, too.

"These guys were stupid, basically," she said.

The trapped birds were discovered late Monday, but darkness prevented a rescue until yesterday, Denver said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Coast Guard and Navy offered to help with the rescue, Porcari said. By midafternoon, the U.S. Park Police provided a helicopter from Washington.

As the chopper hovered over the muck, DNR biologist Brian King and Park Police officers scooped up the birds, Porcari said. King told DNR staffers the surviving eagles, each weighing 15 to 20 pounds and having 4 1/2 - to 5-foot wingspans, were "pretty feisty" and fought their rescuers, Porcari said.

The dead eagles were turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will determine the cause of death, he said.

At the zoo's hospital, the rescued birds were bathed in warm water. They were dosed with steroids to treat shock, vitamin E to counteract the effects of white muscle disease, and antibiotics, Denver said.

By 8:30 p.m., the birds were drying off in a warm room.

Their condition officially was termed "guarded," but three of the eagles were alert and eyeing a meal of frozen fish placed nearby, Denver said. The fourth bird was still in shock, she said.

If the birds recover, they will be released to the wild as soon as possible, Denver said.

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