When a pair of bald eagles arrived at Island Veterinary Hospital in Nanaimo this week with injuries from an apparent fight, the staff there did what it always does with injured wild animals: It ran tests to see what medical attention it could provide before sending the birds for rehabilitation.

“We were just concerned,” said Dr. Ken Langelier. “Is there a possibility there might be broken bones? How deep are the punctures? So we took an X-ray, and of course we look at it and go, ‘What’s that?’”

“That,” turned out to be a 4-inch metal skewer inside the stomach of one of the birds -- the one that had been dubbed “the winner” of the fight because it had fewer visible injuries.

“I guess I still consider it the winner because if it hadn’t been in that battle and brought in, we would never have discovered that little painful spike that was in its stomach,” Langelier said.

The two birds were found on Mudge Island, where their mid-air fight ended up in the ocean and they washed up on shore, Langelier said. “The loser” of the fight was sent for rehabilitation on Wednesday. (not needed)

Langelier surgically removed the skewer from the winner on Thursday. He said it was apparent from the scar tissue around the skewer that it had been swallowed more than a few days ago.

The skewer had punctured the eagle’s stomach and was partially embedded in its spine. Langelier said he had to pull pretty hard to get it out. It’s clear that the bird’s body was trying to eject the foreign object, but couldn’t, he said.

“They don’t have the tongue ability to spit things out, so when they swallow, they swallow things whole,” Langelier said. “In this case, it went in and couldn’t come out again.”

The coincidental nature of this case makes Langelier wonder how many birds die in the wild because of human-made trash in their stomachs. He said he’s removed nets and fishhooks from eagle stomachs in the past, but this was his first skewer.

Now that the foreign object has been removed, the eagle should be able to make a full recovery. Langelier said everything else about the bird was normal. It had good muscle mass and looked healthy.

“This bird’s going to heal, and I have really high expectations that it’s going to be released again soon,” he said.