Lead Poisoning Growing Concern for Birds of Prey

Learn Four Ways of Creating a Non-lead Future

Lead poisoning is growing concern for birds of prey like the Bald Eagle
Lead poisoning is growing concern for birds of prey like the Bald Eagle

Lead is a metal with no known biologically beneficial role, and its use is nearly eliminated. 

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

Last summer, IntoBirds’ favorite wildlife rehabilitator, Christine Peyreigne, owner and operator of Christine’s Critters heroically jumped into the frigid cold Farmington River in Burlington, Connecticut to rescue a beautiful adult female Bald Eagle.

After being hit by a car two weeks earlier the bird was evading capture from wildlife rehabilitators wanting 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.

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

The bad news.

This beautiful bird had a lead level of 24.8.

Normal levels should be under 10.

The Bald Eagle is suffering from lead poisoning.

The bird is receiving four treatments of chelation therapy.

The is 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 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

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 has been under Christine’s watchful eye, and is hopeful the bird will recover and 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?

Use of lead in bullets, shotgun pellets, and fishing weights continue to provide a pathway for lead poisoning in birds of prey
Use of lead in bullets, shotgun pellets, and fishing weights continue to provide a pathway for lead poisoning in birds of prey

Sources of Lead Poisoning

Lead was 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.

Golden Eagles are at risk from lead poisoning
Golden Eagles are at risk from lead poisoning

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.

And through consumption of wounded or dead prey containing lead shot, bullets or fragments.

California put restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in parts of the range of the endangered California Condor
California put restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in parts of the range of the endangered California Condor

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.

-weight loss and emaciation

-weakness and lethargy

-blindness

-seizures

-fewer eggs laid and higher egg mortality

Birds at Greatest Risk of Lead Poisoning

All bird species are at risk from lead poisoning.

Especially birds of prey.

Eagles, vultures, and condors are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning after ingesting lead-based ammunition from carrion and carcasses left behind by irresponsible hunters.

Lead pellets left in innards discarded by hunters, poison scavenging birds of all sizes.

Red-shouldered Hawks and other predators ingest the lead bullets while feeding on carcasses and then become sick, in many cases leading to death
Red-shouldered Hawks and other predators ingest the lead bullets while feeding on carcasses and then become sick, in many cases leading to death

How You Can Help

You’ve already taken the first step by reading this story.

And understand how lead affects the birds we all love.

Now you can help eliminate this dangerous contaminant from wildlife.

Please avoid using lead fishing tackle or ammunition.

Encourage fisherman and hunters to switching to less toxic materials and picking up any discarded materials.

Non-Lead Future

Here are four ways of creating a non-lead future.

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

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

3- Raising awareness about the threat that lead poisoning poses to our birds of prey population.

4- Spreading 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.

Renée

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