Hunters who harvest a deer this year can show a little heart and donate their deer heart to the Northwoods Wildlife Center (NWC).
The wildlife rehabilitation facility in Minocqua uses the hearts to feed eagles, hawks, and other raptors that are residents at the center or are brought in for emergency care.
“We will certainly accept deer hearts or any unneeded, unwanted venison,” NWC executive director Mickey Mueller said. “If they (hunters) have not used lead.”
Only meat harvested with lead-free ammunition, like copper, or with a bow can be accepted.
Lead is poisonous to raptors and Mueller explained that the use of lead bullets is dangerous for birds that scavenge in the wild.
“When hunters use the lead bullets they fragment, basically shatter lead pieces within different parts of the body,” she said. “So with the eagles and other raptors scavenging on them, the lead actually goes into their digestive systems. All those tiny fragments that remain in the dead animal basically get into the blood stream and the respiratory system, nervous system of the eagles.”
As a prevention hunters can use non-toxic copper bullets and they can also properly dispose of carcasses so scavengers can’t get at them. That includes gut piles, which raptors also feast upon.
The NWC is currently caring for an eagle that was brought in and found to have lead poisoning with a reading of 51 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
“Typically 20 (mg/dL) is symptomatic,” Mueller said. “And they can suffer muscle and central nervous system weaknesses and damage. So 51 (mg/dL) is high, so we’re going to start treating this one.”
The treatment includes a regiment of drugs that concentrate, or clot-up, the lead. But it then must pass through the bird’s body.
“That can be a painful process.” Mueller said.
But it’s the only way to eliminate it from the system, and that is crucial because no level of lead in a bird’s system is safe. Even a small, single piece can be toxic.
“It eventually leads to death,” Mueller said of lead poisoning in raptors. “It can last for years. It really depends on the bird. It can go quickly. It just depends on how much they’ve consumed.”
Mueller went on to explain that, once a raptor eats lead-contaminated meat, the amount of toxin in its system will accumulate and increase over time and eventually affect the bird’s ability to survive.
Deer hearts and venison harvested with lead-free ammunition, or with a bow, however, are very nutritious for raptors, being a high protein, low fat food. So as long as the meat is lead-free the NWC will gladly accept it.
They are currently caring for 8-9 raptors, but that number changes.
“You never know what’s going to come in,” Mueller said. “We’ve got the capacity to freeze them here, so if we need them over time we’re stocked.”
The donated hearts or venison can be fresh or frozen, but Mueller definitely recommends freezing if there is a significant time lapse between time of harvest and time of donation.
“It might be just easier for the individual to freeze them and then we’re not worried about it being old before it gets here. So frozen would be good,” she said.
The Northwoods Wildlife Center is at 8683 S. Blumenstein Rd, in Minocqua. For more information, call 715-356-7400.
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]