Rescued bald eagle to be released in March following lead poisoning

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WARNING: Video above may be disturbing to some viewers.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A bald eagle was found in northern New Mexico almost a year ago – poisoned and very near death. Had it not been for the remarkable efforts by one woman in Santa Fe, the bald eagle would not have made it.

But, now, the bird that has captivated a community online is preparing to take flight once again.

For 19 years, Lori Paras has been working to help birds, specifically birds of prey.

“The goal is to release them back to the wild,” said Paras, founder of the Santa Fe Raptor Center. 

Almost one year ago, Paras got a call about a bald eagle.

“A fisherman called,” she said. “And he was so down – the fisherman said he tries to fly, but he can’t. Well he sent me pictures and I just guessed from my experience, it was lead.”

Paras suspects lead sinkers used for fishing are the culprit. Ingesting lead caused this bird to go blind, and caused its organs to fail. 

The eagle started off getting hand fed by her team at the raptor center, and getting a lot of medication. 

Lead levels in his blood were so high they didn’t even register.

“I’ve done this for more than 20 years – I’ve never seen that. You don’t get a bird with lead that high that lives. You just don’t, it kills them,” said Paras. “It’s heartbreaking. They actually have seizures, they cry because it’s painful, it’s – yea. It makes me want to cry. It’s very harsh.”

But then, very slowly, the eagle started taking steps in the right direction.

“It’s amazing, the progress,” Paras said. 

So they named him “Toucan Sam” and documented his progress on social media. Suddenly, tens of thousands of people started following his progress.

“So, I had this funny little stick and I popped his tail, just touch his tail feathers. It pissed him off so he lifted his tail, so I couldn’t touch him – very smart, he’s a character,” Para laughed.

Now she calls him a miracle eagle. His sight has returned, he’s eating on his own, getting stronger, and is ready to go back into the wild.

Toucan Sam was supposed to be released Tuesday, but a winter storm has delayed things.

Paras says she hopes to try again in March, so the eagle can catch the migration back to Alaska.