Be The Change

by Peggy Farr

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world” – Anne Frank

At Wildwoods, stories of heroism unfold before us daily as people go out of their way to help animals in need and bring them to us. And by tending and caring for the animals people rescue, we bring these acts of kindness and heroism full circle. Helping wildlife in need and the people who find them is one of our two primary missions. Education is our other primary mission. Each animal who comes to Wildwoods has a story. It’s usually one of unwitting conflict with humans or an aspect of our civilization—our windows, our cars, our pets, etc.

Each bird that hits a window illustrates the need to share strategies for making windows more visible to birds. Each cat-orphaned nest of baby songbirds underlines the importance of keeping cats indoors. Each animal’s story helps us address the underlying problem that brought them to us, and share possible solutions.

Wildwoods is an educational resource for our community, here not only to help individual animals, but to raise awareness about the issues that bring wildlife into care. We’re here to foster solutions that protect wildlife while helping us all learn ways to tread more lightly on the Earth.

Many people will go out of their way to help an animal in need, and almost everyone will try to avoid hurting them in the first place, if they only know how. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of one of the fundamental yet avoidable issues facing eagles, swans, and loons—that of lead poisoning from lead ammunition and fishing tackle.

Most fishing sinkers and ammunition for deer hunting are made of lead. Unless you’ve specifically sought out lead-free tackle and ammo, you’re using lead. How does this hurt wildlife?

This bald eagle suffered lead poisoning
This bald eagle suffered lead poisoning

Bald eagles are scavengers, and will eat the remains of deer killed but not retrieved during the deer hunt, as well as the entrails of “field-dressed” deer (when the deer’s lungs, heart, liver, and intestines are removed where the deer was killed, and these organs are left behind to help feed scavengers). If these deer were shot with lead ammunition, their meat is laced with tiny fragments of lead.

An eagle who consumes even a tiny piece of lead becomes poisoned. A large amount kills them outright. A smaller amount slows them down and makes them clumsy and uncoordinated. If they are very slow and clumsy, they will starve. If they are only mildly affected, they may be hit by a car due to slowed reflexes. Most injured eagles we get during and shortly after deer hunting season have underlying lead poisoning.

Loons and trumpeter swans pick up lost lead sinkers from the bottoms of lakes, ponds, and rivers as they ingest bits of gravel to aid their digestion. Again, the results are devastating. Almost all the poisoned birds we get—eagles, swans, and loons—die.

This winter brought us case after sad case of lead poisoning. First we got Maddy, a young bald eagle found thin, listless, and too weak to fly. Rifle deer hunting season was in full swing, and lead poisoning was high on our list. Sure enough, Maddy had lead poisoning and didn’t make it. Next was Henley, found injured on the shore of Lake Superior and rescued by two intrepid photographers, despite the icy conditions and steep terrain. Henley had an injured wing and high lead levels. And again, he didn’t make it.

This trumpeter swan suffered from lead poisoning and unfortunately died despite the best efforts of Wildwoods and the Wildlife Rehab Center
This trumpeter swan suffered from lead poisoning and unfortunately died despite the best efforts of Wildwoods and the Wildlife Rehab Center

Our first bird of the New Year was Regal, a magnificent trumpeter swan rescued by ice fisherman from Big Sandy Lake where he was stranded and sick. He died within hours of his rescue. Necropsy showed lead poisoning.

Then there was Rescue, an eagle on the shore just north of Duluth. She was spotted by a Kenai, a golden retriever, and saved by her owner, a friend, and two DNR staff. Rescue had a sprained shoulder…and lead poisoning. She is still alive, but with an uncertain future.

nd most recently, there was Valentino, saved from the side of the road near Grand Rapids by a family headed north for an ice-fishing vacation. Valentino had been hit by a car while feasting on road kill, and had suffered a spinal injury and a broken leg. And of course, he also had underlying lead poisoning, which may have slowed his take off time so that he was hit by the car. He didn’t make it.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, all but one of these magnificent birds died. Many people read these stories on our Facebook page, and they were “shared” widely. Some were even picked up by regional and national news! We hope that each of these tales opened many people’s eyes to the dangers of lead ammunition and lead fishing gear.

We are grateful to the wonderful people who went out of their way to save and bring us these birds. And we are grateful to those who read and shared their stories, and are considering using non-lead products.

Every decision we make may have a profound ripple effect. Saving an eagle or a swan is as easy as making a different decision when shopping for ammunition or fishing tackle. Change begins with us. It’s easier than we realize, and there’s no need to wait!

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