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article imageEagle washing at the wildlife rehabilitation centre Special

By Lynn Curwin     Aug 16, 2010 in Environment
Truro - I spent last Saturday afternoon doing something very few people would have been doing. I was helping wash an eagle, and the bird was not impressed with our efforts.
A friend who runs a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Nova Scotia contacted me earlier in the week to see if I was interested in helping, as she wanted some people with experience and I had been part of her team when she had previously washed oiled eagles.
The bird, who is about three years old, had been found coated with used cooking oil and not feeling well. Natural resources officers took him to Helene Van Doninck, a veterinarian who runs the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (CWRC), because of her experience and knowledge when it comes to these birds.
“He probably had the oil on him for a couple of weeks,” she said. “He could find dead things on the ground for a while, but he would probably have starved to death eventually.”
Van Doninck took some of the oil coated feathers which fell from the eagle and tried cleaning them in various percentages of Dawn and hot water. Once she found the concentration which was removing the oil most effectively she was ready to do some serious cleaning.
As expected, the eagle was not happy about having a bath. He was hooded, to keep him as calm as possible during the experience. He was given a ball of cloth to grip in his talons and then his feet were wrapped in Vetrap.
Old cooking oil is not easily removed from feathers, and the procedure took most of the afternoon. It required three tubs of soapy water- 100 litres in each one- for washing, one rinse tub, and a hosing area. The first soap tub contained 12 bottles of Dawn. It would have been kinder for human skin to have gloves on but it is easier to clean away the oil when you have bare hands, so our skin needed lots of moisturizer later.
Because the procedure is stressful for a bird, the eagle was given a rest break in a box part way through the wash.
After the bath, the bird went to a warm area with a blower to help him dry quickly. Luckily, it was a warm, sunny day so there was no danger of him becoming chilled at any time.
“He will stay here for a while now, and then probably go back to the wildlife park for a while until he is ready to be released,” said Van Doninck. “Things look good for him now but it will take a while for him to get back into condition and be waterproof.”
There is a second eagle at the CWRC. It was thin, dehydrated and vomiting when found and Van Doninck thinks it was poisoned.
“We’ve had 10 or 11 eagles this year,” she said. “The most common reason they come in is because they’re hit by a car. Lead –from lead shot- is next, and then other poisons. At least 95 per cent arrive because of negative human interaction.”
Van Doninck has been doing wildlife rehabilitation work for about 20 years, and began operating the CWRC as a licenced charity in 2001. She cares for about 200 birds, and a few mammals, every year.
A couple of cormorants, coated in industrial oil, were brought in earlier this year. Because they were in such poor shape but the time they arrived, they did not survive long enough to be washed.
Van Doninck has already trained groups in caring for oiled birds. She said that, because of the publicity around the Gulf disaster, there is now more interest in the topic.
She would like to set up a network of wildlife responders across Atlantic Canada, and she is letting companies know that there are people available to help when needed. Anyone interested in being part of this network, or in arranging to have Van Doninck train a group of people, can contact her at
People can also keep informed on what is going on at the CWRC through the organization’s Facebook page.
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