The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

March 30, 2014

‘Take these broken wings and learn to fly again’

It will take more than a song to heal this bird

BECKLEY — One local 8-year-old just can’t catch a break. First, she got hit by a train. After that, she got hit by a car.  

As she was getting checked out for her injures from the car, doctors saw that she had lead poisoning from all of the wildlife she had been munching on. To add insult to injury, the guy she was with has been seen with another girl.

So she’s obviously not a typical 8-year-old. This is the story of Streaky, the 8-year-old bald eagle from Three Rivers Avian Center (TRAC) near Brooks in Summers County.

“She was 4 years old in 2010 when we first started watching the nest,” TRAC Executive Director Wendy Perrone said. “Her name is Streaky because 4-year-old bald eagles have a distinctive eye-stripe that shows up. Their heads are not pure white yet. Her head is now white but the name has stuck.

“She is now 8 years old. She laid eggs and was sitting on them this year but the nest has not been successful. She was hit by a train on March 7 and then was hit by a vehicle somewhere in the area of the 17th or 18th. She’s now in intensive care.”

Perrone says Streaky was on the train tracks because a grain train had spilled some of its load as it went through the area.

“That attracted a whole lot of wildlife to come down and eat the grain,” she said. “That included deer, turkeys and that sort of thing. Of course, as various other trains went through, they hit whatever animal might have been trying to eat from this grain pile. The eagles were eating whatever got hit by the train.

“The Amtrak passenger train was coming through and he wasn’t speeding. Streaky came up off a carcass beside the tracks and started flying beside the train. They thought she would be all right but she just turned straight across in front of the train and there was no way to miss her.”

Perrone says the place where Streaky was hit by the car is just a dangerous spot in general.

“River Road, in that particular section, is a place where a lot of people seem to enjoy speeding,” she said. “There is some racing that goes on there. The road has a very steep turn right across from the nest.

“I talked to one of the folks that owns that property and she said it’s not uncommon for people to lose control and end up in her fields. It’s quite a reckless driver and someone hit her. We don’t know who and we don’t know when.”

Streaky came back to TRAC with quite a few injuries, Perrone says.

“She had a broken beak, a concussion, multiple abrasions, and the loss of some feathers on her head,” she said. “The train left her with a huge abrasion on her keel, which is like their sternum. She was very thin.

“She came in at 7 and a half pounds. She should have been 1- or more. She’s been gaining the weight back and that’s good. She had lead poisoning as well. It came from probably eating scavenged critters that had been shot by lead ammunition.”

Lead poisoning is something they see a lot at TRAC, Perrone says. Back in November, the group released a golden eagle named Aura who was treated for severe lead poisoning.

“Eagles have a diet that includes fish and waterfowl,” Perrone said. “Some of the waterfowl eat vegetation off the bottom of the river. People were using lead shot to shoot waterfowl and when they missed, lead would end up at the bottom of the river. If you have a duck that’s pulling up vegetation to eat it, they may be ingesting lead pellets with it.

“The other thing is that there are people who go fishing and still use lead sinkers and weights. That lead goes into the people using it as well as the fish that are caught.”

Streaky has been eating animals with lead in their system for so long that she’s started to store lead in her body, Perrone says.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get around that,” she said. “That certainly has an effect on how she works as an individual in the ecosystem. It makes her a little off and not quite as sharp, smart or agile as she needs to be.

“People really need to look at switching to nonlead ammo and fishing equipment. This just doesn’t happen with wildlife. If you’re using those things and eating what you catch or shoot with it, that lead is going into you too.

“The CDC has issued a statement saying they don’t think any level of lead whatsoever is safe,” Perrone added. “They used to think you could get away with three to five parts per million but now they’re saying no amount is safe.”

Getting Streaky up and back on her talons could take between one and two months. Nerves have to heal in the spot where Streaky’s spine and pelvis meet. Treatment is making progress, though, Perrone said.

“In her case, we were very concerned about keeping the nerves stimulated and keeping circulation going,” she said. “That involved making sure her feet were opening and closing and her muscles were flexing with a full range of motion.

“That involves half-hour leg and pelvis soaks with massage therapy. There are full range of motion exercises through that time. We make sure she’s as pain-free as we can keep her without making her loopy.”

Streaky’s old flame, Whitey, has been spotted mating and spending time with another girl. The group has nicknamed the new girl in Whitey’s life Jezebel.

For more information about Three Rivers Avian Center, visit www.tracwv.org.

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com

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