No Ill-Eagle Activity

The Zoo’s bald eagle, Abe, recently underwent his routine physical examination from Dr. Tara Reilly, the Virginia Zoo’s Veterinarian, her team of Veterinary Technicians, Leah and Danielle, and Zoo Keepers Alex and Katie!

Woman holds bald eagle while woman inspects bird

Wellness examinations are important, particularly for animals who are elderly or “geriatric” since they can develop age-related changes such as arthritis. Abe’s actual age is unknown since he came to us when he already an adult back in 1992, but he is estimated to be more than 30 years old, which is considered geriatric for a bald eagle. Prior to arriving at the Zoo in the early 90s, Abe had a wing injury in the wild that resulted in the amputation of his right wing, leaving Abe without his ability to fly. The Virginia Zoo heard about Abe’s plight and offered to give him a second chance at life and he has been living here ever since.

Zoo Keeper holds bald eagle while standing on weight scale

Abe’s wellness check started off with obtaining his body weight, which is calculated by evaluating the combined weight of the eagle and Zoo Keeper Katie, then subtracting the Keeper’s weight. Just like in humans, obtaining regular body weights are very important since any changes in weight can be important clues to give insight into the animal’s overall health status and wellness. Dr. Reilly also assessed his body condition during his physical examination and determined that he was in excellent condition.

Keeper holds bald eagle while Vet and Keeper feel bird's torso

She then checked the condition of Abe’s eyes. Just like in humans, as animals age they experience age-related vision changes and Abe is no exception. Abe developed a cataract in his left eye back in 2012, but Dr. Reilly determined that this cataract is still stable and does not impede his overall vision or quality of life since he still has excellent vision in his right eye. In the wild, a bald eagle with a cataract of Abe’s magnitude would not be able to obtain food to survive, but with top-notch medical care and a team who feeds and monitors Abe daily to ensure he is able to get the appropriate nutrition and enrichment that he needs, he has long outlived his life expectancy and can continue to live a happy and healthy life. In a young eagle, a surgical procedure to remove the cataract would be considered a viable option to attempt to restore full vision to the eye, but at Abe’s advanced age he is not a good candidate for such a procedure. 

Zoo Vet uses Ophthalmoscope to look into eagle's eye

After checking Abe’s eyes, ears, beak, feet, feathers and mouth, Dr. Reilly evaluated Abe’s wing structure and joints by extending each wing and checking his range of motion in each joint, one by one, inspecting for arthritis or other abnormalities common with old age. Dr. Reilly also checked out Abe’s super sharp talons as well as the condition of his legs and feet. Foot health is important for bird species and any changes in the “wear” of the feet can be indicators of arthritis or with how the bird is getting around and navigating his exhibit. Abe’s feet and talons were determined to be in excellent condition. 

Zoo vet inspects eagle's wing
Zoo Vet inspects eagle's talons

While Leah and Danielle administered routine vaccinations to Abe, Dr. Tara gave Abe’s feathers a comb through, which revealed a few tiny feather mites! Feather mites are found in birds both in the wild and in managed care (especially in the spring and summer) and can cause itching, feather damage, and even feather loss if left untreated. Dr. Reilly was prepared with a treatment of a safe, non-toxic dust that eliminates the mites while not harming the bird. Abe received a bath of the white powder before being released back into his habitat. Abe also received an injectable antiparasitic medication to help kill any residual mites that could have escaped the dust treatment. 

hand touching eagle tail feathers
On the middle feather, to the left of the shaft that runs down the middle of the feather is a small black dot, which is a feather mite! The other dots that look similar are actually spots of dirt.
Zoo vet puts antiparasitic powder on eagle

Dr. Reilly deemed Abe to be an elderly, but healthy, thriving bird! A recheck examination was performed a few days later and showed that all the feather mites had been eradicated. The Animal Care team will continue to monitor Abe and treat him for any age-related conditions that may arise in the future. Abe is currently back on exhibit and can be found just across from the pond in between the bison yard and Run Wild! Nature Discovery Zone.