The first bald eagle to hatch at the San Diego Zoo in 32 years has died of a bacterial infection, zoo officials announced Monday.
Hatched May 2, the eaglet was found dead Sunday morning at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, where it was being raised in preparation for release this summer on Catalina Island, a zoo spokesman said.
The bird was to be turned over to the Catalina Island Bald Eagle Re-Introduction Project to help reestablish the bald eagle nesting grounds there.
An autopsy, performed by the zoo pathologist, showed that the baby eagle had a greatly enlarged spleen, an indication that it was trying to fight an infection, zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett said. There was also a large amount of food in the stomach, no food in the lower intestine and no fat reserve.
The young bird was fed internal organs of chicken and mice after it had lost interest in a diet of fish, Jouett said.
“We worried about it when it became lethargic on day four,” Jouett said. “There was not the impressive weight gain that we usually see in birds of prey.”
Jouett said the eaglet seemed to regain its appetite after its diet was changed and antibiotics were added.
The bird weighed 3.8 ounces when it hatched and 4.5 ounces at its death.
It is not known what kind of bacteria killed the eaglet or when it entered the bird or the egg, Jouett said.
Until recently, adult eagles at the zoo were not successful at nesting, he said. An egg produced last year at the zoo was eaten by the parents.
Zoo officials had high hopes of contributing the eaglet to the Catalina project, which has released 20 bald eagles from Washington and California in the island’s wild areas since 1980 under the direction of the Institute for Wildlife Studies, the Catalina Conservancy and the State Fish and Game Department, Jouett said.
“This is not a major setback to the (Catalina) project,” he said. “But it is a real heartbreak to the zoo. Next year, we will try again.”