EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can ask Richland Source’s newsroom to investigate a question.
In November, Spike was cleared to return to life in the wild. The majestic bird spent almost six months at the Sanctuary, where he was treated for toxicity and neurological damage.
When Richland Source published the story of Spike's recovery, one of our readers had a follow-up question.
"What would cause the toxicity in the Bald Eagle that was recently released? My husband and myself love these magnificent birds and are curious as to what happened and if it can be prevented?"
To answer that question, we reached back out to Whitney Gibbons, a bird care technician at the Sanctuary.
Gibbons said there's no way to know for sure what caused Spike's symptoms. While he was treated for toxicity when he first arrived, the staff now believes there was a greater underlying cause of his issues.
"Spike was found near some bones in the road from food that he recently eaten. At the time it was suspected that people in the area had been placing out large quantities of fly bait to deter other pests such as rodents and raccoons; and therefore suspected that he had ingested one of these rodents creating a relay toxicity," Gibbons said.
Gibbons and her colleagues consulted with Animal Poison Control through the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. ASPCA told them the majority of fly baits have a minimal relay toxicity, meaning they shouldn't produce symptoms to the severity that Spike was displaying.
"Even if Spike had gotten into the fly bait directly, it is expected that a reduction in symptoms would be displayed after about 24-48 hours," Gibbons said. "This leads us to believe that there was some other underlying neurologic condition that was causing his symptoms."
Nevertheless, Gibbons said it's important to be careful with any kind of poison, since misuse can harm birds and other animals.
"In prevention of these cases for the future, it is recommended that baits placed out, whether they are insecticides, rodenticides, or other pesticides, be used per label instructions and only for the intended species as directed," she said.