By John Rondy
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Seven bald eagles found poisoned and near death in April at a northern Wisconsin landfill are fully recovered and ready to be released back into the wild, a woman who helped nurse them back to health, Marge Gibson, said on Friday.
Authorities from the Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating the accidental poisoning that left one of the birds dead.
Seven of the large birds were found comatose and close to death at an Eagle River, Wisconsin-area landfill on April 9 after ingesting an undisclosed substance from a plastic container.
Gibson and her helpers from Gibson's Raptor Education Center were summoned from Antigo, Wisconsin, about 90 minutes away, to rescue the eagles. Their release back into the wild is imminent, she said.
"There were seven bald eagles that we could find, and most of them looked very dead," Gibson said. "Some of them were even covered with blankets because people thought they were dead."
Gibson said she was up for two straight days caring for the birds, which stand three feet tall, and have a six-foot wingspan. An eagle that died flew away from the landfill and was found dead a mile away, she said.
"To see this majestic symbol of America lying in a box, unresponsive -- it was a difficult sight," Gibson said of the seven eagles she and her staff rescued.
The incident represents the largest known documented bald eagle poisoning event in recent U.S. history, she said.
Bald eagles nearly disappeared from the United States decades ago, but were removed from the list of threatened and endangered species in 2007. Under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Act, the birds cannot be hunted, nor can any part of the bird be possessed, living or dead.
Gibson said published research shows more than 1,000 bald eagle nests in the state, the majority in northern Wisconsin.
Gibson said the poisoning was unintentional, as the birds were sickened by something thrown out in the trash. She declined to disclose the cause.
"People need to be aware of how their activities can affect wildlife," Gibson said.
(Writing and reporting by John Rondy; Editing by David Bailey and Greg McCune)