Lead Poisoning Poses Serious Threat to Birds of Prey

Help Save Our Raptors: Eagles and Other Birds of Prey are Dying from Lead Poisoning at Alarming Rates

The American Bald Eagle, the national symbol of the U.S and a federally protected bird once endangered now faces a new threat: lead poisoning.

Eagles and other birds of prey are dying from lead poisoning at alarming rates.

According to The Raptor Center at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, 90 percent of Bald Eagles suffer from elevated lead residues in their blood.

And 20-25 percent have lead poisoning and either die or are humanely euthanized.

We can’t keep letting our national symbol, the Bald Eagle, and other birds of prey suffer from such a fate.

A 14-year old female Bald Eagle with lead poisoning. Photo credit: Betsy Peyreigne
A 14-year old female Bald Eagle with lead poisoning. Photo credit: Betsy Peyreigne

Get the Lead Out

That’s why intoBirds teamed with Christine’s Critters, and wildlife artist, Pat Morris, to form the Facebook group ‘Get the Lead Out’ dedicated to bringing national awareness to this growing problem and advocating for the eradication of lead in the environment.

In May 2018, Christine Peyreigne, owner and operator of Christine’s Critters rescued an adult female Bald Eagle that was evading capture after being hit by a car.

Christine Peyreigne, owner and operator of Christine’s Critters with adult female Bald Eagle
Christine Peyreigne, owner and operator of Christine’s Critters with adult female Bald Eagle

After examining the eagle, The South Wilton Vet Group discovered the bird is suffering from an elevated lead level of 24.8.

Normal levels should be under 10.

This Bald Eagle is suffering from lead poisoning.

Chelation Therapy

The bird, Christine refers to as the Burlington Eagle, is receiving treatments of chelation therapy.

This therapy is for mercury or lead poisoning.

It binds the toxins in the bloodstream by circulating a chelating solution) bringing the bird’s lead levels down to a reasonable level.

Bands on the the Burlington Eagle identify this bird’s age as 14-years-old and banded as a chick in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.

One Year Later

Nearly a year later and Christine is caring for the eagle.

She was hopeful the bird’s lead values would reach a normal level so that this beautiful Eagle can be released back out into the wild.

The lead poisoning had a permanent neurological and physical effect on the Burlington Eagle, including the bird’s inability to attain and maintain lift when flying.

Christine's rescue Bald Eagle being examined by South Wilton Vet Group
Christine’s rescue Bald Eagle being examined by South Wilton Vet Group

These setbacks don’t stop Christine as she continues to work with this beautiful eagle and hopes for a positive outcome.

Eagle as Source of Inspiration

Christine’s rescued Bald Eagle is as an excellent source of inspiration for people who love birds and want to see them thrive in the wild.

She shares updates about the eagle’s treatments on her Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Others use the Bald Eagle as inspiration for art.

Pat Morris, a wildlife artist from Willington, Connecticut saw a photo of the Bald Eagle and created a painting of the bird with its outstretched wings to symbolize its release into the wild.

Pat Morris, a wildife artist, created this painting of the the eagle to symbolize its release into the wild. Photo credit: Betsy Peyreigne
Pat Morris, a wildife artist, created this painting of the the eagle to symbolize its release into the wild. Photo credit: Betsy Peyreigne

She presented the painting to Christine as a tribute for her efforts to rehabilitate this bird.

The Bald Eagle’s story was the catalyst to create the ‘Get the Lead Out’ Facebook group where people can read about the eagle and learn more about the perils of lead poisoning facing our birds of prey.

READ: SAVE OUR RAPTORS, DON’T USE RODENTICIDE!

Lead Poisoning in Birds of Prey

So just how did the symbol of America get lead poisoning?

Wild birds are poisoned by lead pellets found in wetlands and milled mining waste.

They’re also poisoned through the ingestion of lead fishing weights or when they consume game birds or mammals shot with lead ammunition. (Ducks, geese, rabbits, squirrels, etc.)

Lead pellets left in innards of large game mammals that are discarded by hunters can be ingested by avian predators and scavenging birds of all sizes and result in lead poisoning.

Chelation therapy is used for to treat lead poisoning that binds the toxins in the bloodstream.
Chelation therapy is used for to treat lead poisoning that binds the toxins in the bloodstream.

The Ban on Lead Ammunition

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Interior lifted a ban on hunting with lead bullets on wildlife refuges, but it’s still illegal to use lead ammunition to hunt waterfowl.

Hunters prefer to use lead ammunition because it’s heavier than steel or copper, and reaches the target with higher accuracy.

Lead ammo is also cheaper.

But eagles and other birds of prey are paying the price with their lives.

How Lead Poisoning Affects Birds

Lead poisoning is a toxicosis caused by the absorption of hazardous levels of lead in body tissues.

Without medical attention and rehabilitation, a poisoned bird can suffer severe neurological and physical effects such as weight loss and emaciation, weakness and lethargy, blindness, seizures, fewer eggs laid, and higher egg mortality

Rescued adult Bald Eagle on her way to the vet for treatments of chelation therapy
Rescued adult Bald Eagle on her way to the vet for treatments of chelation therapy

Getting the Lead Out

Lead was used as an additive in paint, gasoline, pipes, and other materials.

Then in 1977, citing lead’s extreme health risks to humans, especially children, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead paint in residential and public buildings as well as in toys and furniture.

In 1996, lead was banned from use in gasoline.

The U.S. Military stopped using lead-based ammunition on December 31, 2013, and switched to green bullets.

Lead in Bullets

But the use of lead in bullets, shotgun pellets, and fishing weights continue to provide a pathway for lead poisoning in humans and wildlife.

Including Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, hawks, vultures, and other birds of prey.

And millions of birds are poisoned by lead every year.

Creating a Non-Lead Future

As people who love birds, we can help prevent the decimation of the bird population and our beloved birds of prey.

Here are a few steps you can take to ensure we have a non-lead future.

-Avoid using lead fishing tackle or ammunition, and encourage fishermen and hunters to switch to less toxic materials and to pick up any discarded materials.

-Advocate for laws to restrict the use of lead-based ammunition of all types with severe fines for violations.

-Support wildlife recovery and rehabilitation programs for birds of prey affected by lead poisoning, like Christine’s Critters or other programs in your area.

-Join the ‘Get the Lead Out’ Facebook group. Tell others to join and use your voice to raise awareness about the threat that lead poisoning poses to our birds of prey population.

-Spread the word about lead poisoning and share this story on the social media channels.

The world is big enough for all living creatures so let’s all support biodiversity and coexist.

Renée

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