Avian Haven’s fascinating experiences with Maine’s injured wild birds

Pileated Woodpecker with leg fracture - Amy Campbell photoI look forward to it every year: Avian Haven’s annual report and newsletter. Avian Haven is an animal rehab facility in Freedom, owned by Diane Winn and Marc Payne. With the help of a great staff and volunteers, they do provide great care for the state’s injured birds. This year’s newsletter, published earlier this week, is fascinating as well as troubling. It includes amazing photographs.

While Linda and I are avid birders, and that’s the primary reason I enjoy the Avian Haven newsletter, I want to be sure that hunters and anglers read this newsletter too, because many of the topics and reports are of interest and concern to sportsmen – even if you are not a birder.  I’m going to take a quick tour through the newsletter, and then give you access to the entire newsletter.

1709 damaged birds

After two years of caring for about 1550 birds annually, 2014 saw another increase in case load: we cared for 1739 wild birds in all—1709 new admissions plus 30 carried over from 2013. Similar to past years, our species total was 124. Nearly half of the 2014 admissions were songbirds, most of them nestlings…. Among the aquatic species, Common Loon once again took first place (39 birds), but Mallards (37) were close behind.

Bald Eagles Poisoned by Lead

BDN photo with Brad Allen and Avian Haven2014 was also a record year for Bald Eagles; we had 39 admissions during the calendar year, and also cared for an additional four held over from 2013…. four Bald Eagles were admitted in 2014 with acute, fatal lead exposures. Several additional eagles with sub-lethal lead exposures were injured as a result of impaired coordination. The extent to which lead bullets fragment in the flesh of game animals, providing the potential for unknowing ingestion in both people and scavengers like eagles, is well documented. Www.huntingwithnonlead.org contains a wealth of information about the comparative performance and cost of lead vs. copper alternatives. Someday, all hunting will be done with nontoxic ammunition, but meanwhile, many eagle deaths could be prevented by proper disposal of waste meat from game hunted with lead, including carcasses and gut piles left in the field as well as butchers’ scraps.


2014 was a record year for loon admissions with 39 Common Loons (plus one Red-throated Loon)! Among the adult birds, the most common source of difficulty was fishing gear. As noted above, we admitted a bird from Crystal Lake (Gray, ME) with a lead sinker in his gizzard and an off-the-scale blood lead level. We removed the sinker by gastric lavage, but too much damage had already been done, and the bird died the next day.

Four other birds, two of which were rescued in NH by that state’s awesome conservation organization, the Loon Preservation Committee (www.loon.org), had tackle either in their GI tracts or on their bodies. In the latter category was an adult from Wilson Lake (Wilton) that was observed for about a week, during which several capture attempts failed. On August 3, Warden Dan Christiansen netted the loon from his boat as she started to dive beneath it; shortly thereafter, volunteer transporter Kate Weatherby brought her here. (A photo in the newsletter) shows the line wrapped around the bird’s neck and beak. One of the two sinkers was lead, and fortunately, the bird had not swallowed it. We removed the line and tackle, but the bird’s blood work indicated a severe debilitation, most likely from her having been unable to feed for some time. A week later, she was very restless, and although we would have liked to build her up a bit more, we decided that getting her back home took precedence. Kate drove her back; she and Dan opened up the transport crate at the lake’s edge. The bird swam eagerly into the lake, and within a few minutes, had been joined by her mate.

You can read the entire newsletter here. It’s well worth your time. And it will give you plenty to admire, and a few things, I hope, that will concern you.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.