U’s Raptor Center sees record number of injured bald eagles

Published 4:15 am Saturday, November 16, 2019

By Tim Nelson

MPR News/90.1

Majestic and beautiful bald eagles live around the Twin Cities metro area in greater numbers. And more of them are winding up in the hospital.

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“We are their health plan,” said Julia Ponder, a veterinarian at the University of Minnesota and director of the Raptor Center on the U’s St. Paul campus.

In fact, she and her staff cared for 31 eagles at one time recently, which Ponder called an all-time high. It’s part of a long term trend, with the center treating as many as 183 eagles in 2017, a spike of nearly 50 percent from the annual patient count from just a few years before.

“It’s our new normal,” she said. “We didn’t see any consistent trends or identifying characteristics that told us why this happened so abruptly.

“It’s probably a result not only of an increasing eagle population,” Ponder explained, “but eagles are clearly becoming more adapted to living among humans.”

Eagles die or are injured when they collide with vehicles. They also contract lead poisoning after feasting on deer guts hunters leave in the woods.

The Raptor Center is straining to treat eagles, which often require two people to control them, and can cost $5,000 to treat. Nonsurgical cases run about $1,000.

Ponder said as of Friday afternoon, they’re down to 28 eagles because, happily, some have healed and returned to the wild.