A sick eagle sidetracked the first-shotgun-season deer hunt of Loran Martensen of Cedar Rapids.
Scouting in rural Clayton County on Dec. 2, the day before the first season opened, Martensen, 62, noticed a mature bald eagle sitting on a log near the Turkey River.
The eagle flew off upon his approach but did not go far, Martensen said.
With the eagle still on his mind the next morning, Martensen said he climbed down from his tree stand, searched for the bird and again found it near the river.
He did the same thing on the following morning and found the oddly behaving eagle unable even to flee from his touch.
Realizing the bird needed help, he wrapped it in his jacket and carried it back to his pickup. He said he found it unsettling that such a wild animal would allow itself to be handled by a human.
Martensen called the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, which referred him to Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Burt Walters.
Walters examined the eagle and took it to Tender Care Animal Hospital in Prairie du Chien, Wis., for treatment by Laura Johnson, a veterinarian and trained wildlife rehabilitator.
“It was lethargic, malnourished and unable to move its legs,” said Johnson, who, based on its symptoms and the circumstance in which it was found, concluded that it suffered from lead poisoning.
She transferred the eagle to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where tests found 10 parts per million of lead in the eagle’s blood — about 50 times higher than normal.
It was one of three lead-poisoned eagles brought to her clinic that week, she said.
Because of the eagle’s suffering and poor prognosis, it was euthanized, Johnson said.
“It was kind of a sad ending. Obviously I hoped the eagle was going to make it,” Martensen said.
Johnson said lead poisoning in eagles typically occurs when the birds ingest lead fragments while feeding on deer that have been shot by hunters but not recovered, or when they feed upon gut piles left behind when hunters field dress their deer.
Research indicates that lead deer slugs often disintegrate into fragments when they strike a deer, she said.
“A lead fragment the size of a grain of rice can be fatal to an eagle,” she said.
Martensen said the experience “touched his heart” and changed his attitude on the issue of lead-based ammunition, which is expected to be considered, at least as it relates to dove hunting, during the upcoming session of the Iowa Legislature.