WARNING! This is a really GROSS post. Quite frankly, I don't know how I'm going to muddle through it. It's interesting and does have a happy ending, but for those of you out there who don't like bugs, especially squishy maggots, I highly recommend avoiding going any further in this post. However, if you're like me and just can't help yourself, keep reading...although, you may not want to be eating anything at the moment.
A five week old bald eagle was down in clinic at The Raptor Center today and the vets were kind enough to let me follow with my camera. As vet Jane Goggin was looking over the young bird, it looked in good condition...and then she checked one of its ears.
Instead of finding a clear ear canal, it was chock full of maggots! Are we ready? On the count of three: 1...2...3...EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! This is not a common occurrence in young raptors, but it happens often enough that when they are brought in, the vets check the ears. Vet Juli Ponder said that generally in nature, the maggots go through their whole life cycle and leave, causing relatively little damage. She did add that they can find this in any raptor, especially great horned owls and bald eagles.
Here are the contents of the ear (one ear, mind you). The vets pluck out the maggots with forceps and then drop them in alcohol to kill them, afterwards swabbing out the ear. Can you imagine having maggots in your ear and not being able to get them out. Think about that, feeling (and hearing) all that squirming and squiggling and itchiness in your ear for days. When Juli said that great horned owls get them too, I thought about how owls are supposed to have better hearing, how does multiple maggot sucking blood in their ear canals rock their world?
Jane checked the young eagle's other ear and found more of the same. 1...2...3...EWWWWWWWW!! So, basically this bird's ears have been plugged up with squirming and sucking. Gross, gross, gross. Think about how big your head is compared to an eagle. Now, can you imagine what it must be like to have 9 maggots wriggling in one ear on such a small head. Ew. Ew. Ew.
The eagle is now ready to go back to the wild. I wondered if afterwards the young eagle was marveling at all the new sounds it was hearing. It's ears were plugged up for awhile and now they are wide open and cleaned out. In the wild the maggots can clean up on their own, but it never hurts to give the birds a little extra help if they visit the clinic. From now on when I look at raptors soaring and envy their flight capability, I will just remind myself that "Hey, I don't have to worry about maggots in my ears." I think that should calm my envy.