Starving bald eagles falling from sky in B.C., expert says
BY JUDITH LAVOIE, POSTMEDIA NEWS FEBRUARY 23, 2011
VICTORIA — Starving bald eagles are falling out of the sky on Vancouver Island, a wildlife expert says, perhaps over a lack of salmon runs in the region last month.
Maj Birch, manager of the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society, is caring for seven eagles in the Comox Valley.
She said several others had died before they could be helped.
"This is the most we have ever had," Birch said.
"Many of them are downed before they are brought in.
They are on the ground and they're too weak to fly away.
"Some of them are actually falling out of the sky.
One of them slid off a roof yesterday."
The cause of the starvation appears to be poor chum salmon runs both around
the Comox Valley and on the mainland, Birch said.
"Bald eagles follow the food sources. . . .
Chum are rich in oil and fat and they are in the rivers in late fall and early winter,
so it sustains the eagles through the winter months," she said.
"The eagles didn't get the food they needed in January."
Now the eagles are waiting around the Comox Valley for the herring spawn in early March,
said Birch, who hopes the run will not come too late for many of the birds.
"By then, the birds could be so debilitated they may not have the energy to hunt," she said.
About 20 birds have been cared for by the centre so far this year.
Most have had to be fed by tube because they are too debilitated to eat solid food,Birch said.
Feathers hide many problems, she added, so the poor condition of the birds is often not fully realized until they arrive at the centre and are found to be loaded with parasites and with no body fat.
Eagles face challenges in other areas because of pollution, development and overfishing, Birch said.
"If you go to the landfill, you see hundreds of them right now and they're not really garbage-eaters."
Robin Campbell, of North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington, B.C., which is caring for nine bald eagles,
said most became ill after eating at dumps in the Comox Valley and Campbell River.
"If they can't find carrion, they go to the dump,
and the problem with the dump up there is you get a lot of poisoning," he said.
Campbell said the poor chum run is a problem for eagles — although the number at the recovery centre is not unusual — but it was compounded by heavy rains that washed the dead fish out to sea.
Intensive work involved in rehabilitating eagles is expensive and, like many other animal rehabilitation centres,
the rescue society no longer receives B.C. provincial gaming grants,
meaning its entire $100,000 budget has to be raised through donations.