Lead is a metal with no known biologically beneficial role, and its use is nearly eliminated, but yet lead poisoning presents the most significant hazard to wildlife, specifically birds of prey.
If you love birds as we do, then you need to be aware of this insidious threat to birds of prey.
Bald Eagle Rescue
IntoBirds’ favorite falconer and wildlife rehabilitator, Christine Peyreigne, owner and operator of Christine’s Critters recently shared on her Instagram account how she jumped into the frigid cold Farmington River in Burlington, Connecticut to rescue a beautiful adult female Bald Eagle.
The bird was hit by a car two weeks earlier and had been evading capture from Christine and other wildlife rehabilitators who wanted to provide care and release.
Christine brought the Bald Eagle to South Wilton Vet Group in Connecticut for a full exam.
The good news was that x-rays found no broken bones and that feather damage prevented the eagle from flying.
The bad news.
This beautiful bird had a lead level of 24.8, and normal levels should be under 10.
The Bald Eagle is suffering from lead poisoning.
The bird is receiving four treatments of chelation therapy (A therapy for mercury or lead poisoning that binds the toxins in the bloodstream by circulating a chelating solution) to help bring the bird’s lead levels down to a normal level.
Christine identified the bird by its bands and learned the Bald Eagle is 14-years-old and banded as a chick in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.
The eagle is under Christine’s watchful eye, and she hopes the bird will recover so she can be released back into the wild.
The Bald Eagle is the symbol of the United States. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolize the strength and freedom of America.
So how did this gorgeous bird get lead poisoning?
Sources of Lead Poisoning
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.
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, and vultures.
And millions of birds are poisoned by lead every year.
The most significant hazard lead poses to birds of prey is through direct ingestion of spent lead shot and bullets, lost fishing sinkers, lead tackle and related fragments, or through consumption of wounded or dead prey containing lead shot, bullets or fragments.
Lead Poisoning in 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
-fewer eggs laid and higher egg mortality
Birds at Greatest Risk of Lead Poisoning
All bird species are at risk from lead poisoning, but birds of prey, including eagles, vultures, and condors are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning from ingesting lead-based ammunition from carrion and carcasses left behind by irresponsible hunters.
If lead pellets are left in innards that are discarded by hunters, scavenging birds of all sizes can also be poisoned.
How You Can Help
You’ve already taken the first step by reading this story.
Now that you understand how lead affects the birds we all love so much you’ve taken the first step to eliminating this dangerous contaminant from wildlife.
Avoid using lead fishing tackle or ammunition, and encourage fisherman 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.
Raise awareness about the threat that lead poisoning poses to our birds of prey population.
Spread the word about led poisoning and share this story over the social media channels.
As people who love birds, we can help prevent the decimation of the bird population and our beloved birds of prey.
And please, let’s all coexist.