Every year, the WRC admits on average 15-20 Trumpeter Swans, most suffering from lead poisoning (other reasons may include being hit by a car or colliding with a power line). Most of the swans arrive between the months of November and February.
This afternoon we admitted our first Trumpeter Swan of the winter season. This adult was found roaming in a fenced-in field, unable to fly and slightly weak. Upon admission, the swan we learned it was mildly dehydrated, and had bruising to both wrists. Bloodwork revealed that the swan did have a mildly elevated lead level, which would account for his/her weak state and inability to fly (secondary to the weakness).
Swans become victims to lead poisoning when they accidentally ingest fragments from lead fishing sinkers and spent ammunition at the bottom of lakes and ponds. The lead then leaches out of their stomach and into their bloodstream, causing motor weakness and other neurological deficits. The swans eventually succumb to the lead poisoning, usually due to starvation since they can’t move adequately enough to find food.
X-rays of the swan did not show any evidence of lead in its stomach, so we did not need to perform a stomach gavage to remove fragments. If we did see fragments on the x-ray, time is of the essence to remove those fragments to prevent more lead from leaching into the bloodstream.
Luckily for this swan, he/she was found just in time to treat the lead poisoning before it becomes more of an issue! The swan will receive twice daily injections of a medication that will bind to the lead, which will then be excreted by the swan. We hope the swan has a quick recovery and can return to the wild soon!