by David Hancock
Quick comment on the diagnosis of Phoenix by the MOE (Ministry of Environment) avian pathologists for the British Columbia Animal Health Laboratory, Dr. Schwantje and Dr. Vicky Bowes.
Their "preliminary findings from the necropsy performed on Phoenix. Phoenix was a female. She died from acute bilateral mycotic pneumonia."
This is sad but a very common disease of raptors and of young eagles. Usually the problem organism is the fungus Aspergillosis. This is a world-wide contaminant found literally everywhere that only becomes toxic when the host is under nourished or stressed. I have seen sitting birds, in this case a ptarmigan, undergo a slight hormonal shift as the egg laying body hormones changed to incubation hormones and we believe the Aspergillosis in the bird's body took this shift as a threat and the Aspergillosis emitted a sudden toxic bloom of spores to insure it survived. Flowering is the plant's way to insure new life. The ptarmigan died within minutes still sitting on its eggs.
In general scavenging raptors have a great resistance to disease. They obviously have to have evolved such a defensive mechanism since they are constantly, by the scavenging of dead and diseased carcasses, exposed to disease more than most creatures. But the inherent protective measures can indeed fail. We believe their resistance can be lowered by poor health or by a poor contaminated less nutritious diet. Have the adults been bringing in dead and dying or overly contaminated foods? Food already debilitated? We probably will not know the extent of their food supplies' contamination. Hopefully the lab will perform pesticide and heavy metal tests.
Of course old nests can harbor a build up of contamination. And of course if the adults are heavily contaminated they could be passing lethal doses on to the kids at each early feeding. But contamination through the nest or parents is not likely where the nest is open to the weather.
I would guess that the eaglets have a debilitated health due to some more severe contamination of their general food supply. If you read Doug's book, The Eagles of Hornby Island, you will understand the major ecological shift that has taken place within his area -- now defined as the northern edge of the Salish Sea ecosystem. These are the waters "nutrified & poisoned" by the huge populations of NW Washington and SE British Columbia -- and the watershed of the Fraser River, to name but the largest river. His birds were forced to shift from a diet heavily fortified with coho salmon prior to 20 years ago, to a new diet, one more based on scavenging than fishing.
And of course, the dead scavenged carcasses are often in that state for obvious reasons. Some may actually have died of poisoning. We now know the story of our inside resident orcas, those that largely spend 8 plus months feeding on the salmon of the Salish Sea -- they are dying of such pesticide and heavy metal poisons that their carcasses contain so much toxic material the remains of the orcas can't be returned to the ocean. Are our eagles following this path? What an ominous thought!
The creatures of our seas are living in a constant morass of contamination. Perhaps our dying orcas, our diminished populations of salmon and, heaven forbid, perhaps our treasured eagles are another indicator of the disrespect we heap on the world.
Drs. Bowes and Schwantje, please tell us Phoenix was struck by lightening! Is our Phoenix a portend of good or evil?
Hancock Wildlife Foundation