British Columbia

Poisoned, electrocuted and hit by car: Human negligence hurting Haida Gwaii eagles, says volunteer

Wildlife volunteer says rotting fish and deer carcasses are putting the birds into dangerous situations.

Leila Riddall says rotting fish and deer carcasses are putting birds in dangerous situations

A bald eagle found injured in Masset, on Haida Gwaii, is transported to the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta, B.C. This particular eagle was electrocuted after flying into a power line. (Leila Riddall)

A wildlife volunteer on Haida Gwaii is urging people to be more careful about how they dispose of dead fish and deer after finding multiple injured eagles in the same area.

Leila Riddall, a member of the Masset Animal Helpline, a volunteer organization that helps rescue both domestic and wild animals on the archipelago, said she's sent four bald eagles to a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Delta, B.C, since July 5, all suffering from a variety of injuries.

Ridall said the eagles were injured after they were drawn to Massett by deer and fish carcasses left rotting out in the open.

We shouldn't have an in-town population of wild eagles, but we do," she said in an interview for CBC Radio West.


You live in the most beautiful place on earth, we rely on nature as a resource here, so respect it.- Leila Riddall

The first eagle Ridall sent to be rehabilitated appeared to have been electrocuted after flying into a power line.

Another came in with lead poisoning, and a third had a fractured bone in its wing, most likely after being hit by a vehicle.

Finally, an 11-week-old eagle was found emaciated and shipped south for help.

Five others were either dead or too injured to be saved when Riddall found them.

Lead poisoning a primary concern

Riddall said she finds, on average, one dead or injured eagle in Massett every two weeks during the summer. Lead poisoning, caused when the birds fall ill after eating the carcasses of hunted animals, is a primary cause.

"[People] go hunting, they dump the carcass, and where they've shot the animal, they don't ever take that piece," she said.

Eagles — which are natural scavengers — then eat the carcass, and get sick from the lead that's left behind.

Rotting meat left out in the open attracts wild animals to civilization and puts them at risk of injury, said Rob Hope of B.C.'s Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (Leila Riddall)

"One [piece of lead] the size of a piece of rice will make an eagle sick," said Rob Hope, raptor care manager of the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society, where the injured eagles were sent.

Hope said while it's not unusual to receive injured birds over the summer, it is "odd" to see so many come from the same area in such a short time period.

He said he hopes people living in Massett and elsewhere will do more to prevent their actions from harming birds of prey.

Ideally, he said, hunters would stop using lead bullets and instead switch to steel, which eagles can regurgitate.

He would also like people to properly bury or cover carcasses when they are disposed of, so eagles and other wild animals aren't attracted to them.

Finally, he said rotting meat should be placed away from power lines and roads, so that if eagles are attracted by the smell they aren't at risk of being hit or electrocuted.

Riddall said she's not sure people in Massett realize how often eagles are killed by human actions.

But, she said, they should take responsibility for ensuring the wildlife of Haida Gwaii remains wild.

"Be more respectful. You live in the most beautiful place on earth, we rely on nature as a resource here, so respect it." 

A wildlife volunteer on Haida Gwaii says people need to be more careful about how they dispose of dead fish and deer after finding a series of injured eagles in the same area. 5:34

Interview with Leila Riddall produced by Candice Lipski for CBC Radio West.

Radio West is CBC Radio's afternoon show for the B.C. interior and north. Replay full episodes on CBC Listen, and connect with the team on Facebook.


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