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Bald eagle in Barnstable euthanized after eating poisoned rat

SEBASTIEN SALOM GOMIS/AFP/Getty Images

In what could be a first for Massachusetts, a bald eagle had to be euthanized on Cape Cod after it ate a poisoned rat and fell critically ill, state wildlife officials said.

The bird, which was at least 5 years old, was found in a bramble bush in a woman’s backyard in Centerville on Sunday, said Katrina Bergman, the executive director of the New England Wildlife Center, a nonprofit based in South Weymouth.

The bird was bleeding heavily and suffering from a puncture wound and multiple other injuries when it was brought to Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, a partner of New England wildlife.

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“There were several other things wrong with him, but … it looked like the root cause was rodenticide, because his blood couldn’t clot, which is what rat poison does,” Bergman said. “That causes uncontrollable blood loss for even minor wounds, which makes the animal weak and susceptible to other injuries.”

While a third of the raptors brought into the wildlife center suffer from rat poisoning, Bergman said this could be the state’s first case involving a bald eagle.

“It’s a surprise, because it doesn’t match the feeding habits that we typically interpret for a bald eagle,” said New England Wildlife Center CEO and veterinarian Greg Mertz. “We typically think of bald eagles as birds of prey for sure, but often they eat in aquatic and marine settings. Obviously this one has been eating rodents.”

As the temperatures grow colder, he said, it’s possible that bald eagles are relying on other food sources.

“It was one of those moments where your heart skips a beat,” Bergman said. “And it was so much worse that it was so preventable. It didn’t have to happen.”

Usually, infected animals are given Vitamin K and fluids through an intensive treatment process, but since the eagle was so ill, state wildlife officials ultimately decided to euthanize it, she said.

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The bald eagle is a federally protected species by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Because there are fewer than 70 nesting pairs of eagles remaining in Massachusetts, Bergman said officials are urging people to be more careful when driving rats and mice away and use more environmentally safe rodent control alternatives.

“We’re trying to spread the word about how dangerous rodenticide poison is,” Bergman said. “It keeps getting stronger and stronger as people try to keep vermin under control in and around their homes, but most people don’t understand the impact.”


Elise Takahama can be reached at elise.takahama@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @elisetakahama.