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News and Events

Bald Eagle Release Fulfills Dream
for Hospice Patient

Ruth Payton is an 82-year-old hospice patient with terminal hemolytic anemia who resides in the Macon, Mo., area. She loves birds and recently acquired two cockatiels that she enjoys watching and listening to throughout the day. When her Hospice Compassus nurse learned that Mrs. Payton’s long-held dream is to see an American bald eagle “in real life,” she passed the information onto her hospice social worker, Randi Petre. Mrs. Petre contacted the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine to inquire if the College’s Raptor Rehabilitation Project could assist the hospice Dream Team in making Mrs. Payton’s wish a reality.

As fate would have it, Raptor Rehabilitation Project members have been treating a mature bald eagle they named Watson. Watson was brought to the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital Dec. 5, 2011, by a Missouri Conservation agent. Watson was unable to stand and showed many signs of a neurologic problem consistent with lead poisoning. Lead toxicity is a common problem in bald eagles. It is typically caused by an accumulation of lead during the lifetime of the bird from eating contaminated fish and other prey.

An initial blood test for lead showed levels too high to register a result. X-rays also revealed some abnormal material in his digestive tract. Watson was anesthetized and the material, which looked like rotten liver, was removed. He was given fluids and antibiotics and started on a treatment that removes lead from a bird’s body. The initial lead treatment lasted for one week, at which time he showed great improvement. However, a blood test showed that the amount of lead in his blood (0.39 parts per million) was still too high (normal is less than 0.1 parts per million), so the treatment was repeated.

When Watson’s blood lead level reached normal, he was moved from the hospital to a flight cage on Dec. 27, where he has been regaining strength and flight muscle.

Watson is now ready to be returned to the wild and will be released by members of the Raptor Rehabilitation Project at 1 p.m., Jan. 8, 2012, near the Long Branch Marina Store and swimming beach parking lot within Long Branch State Park in Macon, Mo. The event will provide the opportunity for Mrs. Payton to not only see a bald eagle in person, but also to witness its release, while providing Watson an ideal habitat for his continued good health. This event is free and open to the public.

The MU Raptor Rehabilitation Project educates the public about birds of prey, combining natural history and species information with personal experience to deliver educational programs throughout mid-Missouri. The project also gives veterinary students, community members, and other students the opportunity to work hands-on with professional veterinary medical faculty and cutting-edge technology to rehabilitate and release injured or ill birds. The College of Veterinary Medicine provides the vital financial support for medical care, housing and food for these majestic creatures, and project funds are supplemented by private donations. The project currently has four other birds being rehabilitated for their eventual return to the wild and is also caring for nine birds that cannot be released, which are valuable for educational outreach to the public.

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College of Veterinary Medicine
W-203 Veterinary Medicine Building
Columbia, MO 65211
Phone: (573) 882-3554
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Last Update: February 29, 2012