By Steve Kiggins,
Q13 FOX News reporter
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. -- A half-dozen bald eagles found close to death in Lewis County are being nursed back to health at the West Sound Wildlife Shelter -- and the culprit appears to be tainted horse meat.
The birds are believed to have become sick after eating meat from the carcass of a euthanized horse that had been left out in a field.
The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife is investigating the incident because it is illegal to either intentionally or unintentionally poison a protected bird. In addition, a person can still be charged with a crime even if the bird survives.
"When you euthanize a horse, or another animal, they use sodium-phenobarbital and that goes through the entire system. So when a scavenger comes down to eat on that, they're actually ingesting that chemical and it can euthanize them," said Mike Pratt, of the West Sound Wildlife Shelter.
When the birds first arrived at the shelter on Sunday, they were very ill but appeared to be recovering by Tuesday.
"It's imperative that we get these guys hydrated. (It has) electrolytes and stuff in it and some calories. It doesn't hurt -- it's just a tube that goes down to the stomach," said Pratt.
Pratt and his team at the shelter worked throughout the weekend to nurse the eagles back to health.
"It took down seven eagles but it could have been a lot worse -- it could have taken down ravens, crows, gulls and pets and everything," Pratt said.
One of the eagles is being treated at a shelter in Portland. The shelter said the eagles are now well enough to be moved into what’s called a “flying cage” and are almost ready to be released back into the wild.
"We want to give these animals a second chance at life and these animals -- all six (one of the eagles is being treated at a shelter in Portland, Ore.) -- I'm very confident today are going to make it. If you asked me that yesterday, I wasn't sure ," he said.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife said it is just beginning its investigation and is not naming the owner of the farm. If found responsible for poisoning the birds and convicted, the owners could face up to a year in jail and a $200,000 fine.
By Steve Kiggins,