These magnificent big birds are not everyone's favorites as they can kill chickens. But they are a common bird suffering at the hands of humans and the effects we have had on their environment traffic-wise and as prey being shot with lead.
The treatment of these birds may not be necessary for the conservation of the species as they are doing very well in population numbers. However caring for them and lowering lead levels can teach us a lot about raptors in care.
Many of those that are admitted have significant injuries from being struck by a car, and with multiple fractures we often have no choice but to end their suffering with euthanasia. But a number of them are also found on farmland and or on private land just sitting on the ground. They often present the typical sitting on their hocks with clenched talons. This to us indicates that lead toxicity is what we are dealing with. A blood sample is taken to confirm the lead levels in the blood and treatment starts immediately.
Chelation treatment is the same as in humans and involves the removal and flushing out of the metals from the body. An X Ray is also taken to see if any metals are still present in the gizzard.
It can take weeks to see improvements and sometimes the treatment is too late. The abrasions we see on the carpal and hocks are an indication the bird has been down for some time. We carefully treat them with protective bandages and change them every couple of days. The tail is also covered in a plastic sheet to prevent feather damage from sitting on the ground . Some form of physiotherapy is needed to keep the joints moving.
We keep the bird in an isolated room away from people and noise and cover the cage with sheets to reduce the stress. They are fed on "'one day chickens" and specially bred clean mice.
We hope that hunters and farmers care enough about the environment to not use lead shot as a choice of ammunition.