Richmond, VA – The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) received confirmation today from the Southeastern Cooperative for Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) in Athens, Georgia, that the cause of the growth on the Norfolk Botanical Garden eaglet is avian pox. Avian pox is a viral disease that is contracted by any number of birds. The disease is generally spread through mosquitoes but may be spread from bird to bird (especially by birds in very close contact). Symptoms include warty nodules on the featherless parts of the skin which can become enlarged resulting in impairment of vision, breathing and feeding. Avian pox poses no human health hazard.
The eaglet was removed from the nest on Thursday, May 22, 2008, to be examined by VDGIF Wildlife Veterinarian Jonathan Sleeman. Nuckols Tree Care Service used a bucket truck to retrieve the eaglet and lower it to the ground. Dr Sleeman examined the young bird and took a tissue sample from the growth on the eaglet’s beak and sent it to SCWDS. Concern that the growth was beginning to deform the young bird’s beak and that it may eventually inhibit breathing led to the bird being transported to The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, where it is being treated.
The bird is currently receiving supportive care, and the VDGIF and Wildlife Center of Virginia veterinarians are discussing various treatment options for this mass. Treatment consists of a regime of antibiotics to fight secondary infections, antifungal drugs to prevent secondary fungal diseases common to raptors in captivity, and medications to help boost the immune system. In addition, treatment will likely involve surgery, which means there will be a protracted recovery period. The extent to which this lesion has affected the development of bone and beak tissue will have to be evaluated in deciding if the eventual release of the bird is possible.
At this point the eaglet seems otherwise healthy, feeding and appearing alert. It is anticipated that treatment will last until the clinical signs have abated or until all reasonable treatment options have been exhausted.
In addition to the imaging scans and biopsy, The Wildlife Center of Virginia has also run blood panels that will detect environmental contaminants such as exposure to heavy metals or pesticides. A previous blood test for lead exposure came back negative. Although there is no indication of any such issues, eagles and other predators are susceptible to these contaminates in the food chain. When these results are available they will be posted as well.
The young bird will not be returned to the nest. If treatment proves successful, with no long-term deterioration of bone and beak, and the bird poses no health concerns to other wild eagles, it will be released back into the wild.