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 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 is that x-rays reveal no broken bones, and feather damage is preventing the eagle from flying.
The bad news.
This beautiful bird has 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 helping to 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 banded as a chick in 2004 in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.
The eagle is under Christine’s watchful eye, and is hopeful the bird will recover and for release 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 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 suffering from lead poisoning 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.
And 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 bird with lead poisoning suffers severe neurological and physical effects.
-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.
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.
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.
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.
Update to this story:
This beautiful Bald Eagle suffering from a wing injury because of a car collision and lead poisoning was not set free.
After months of receiving chelation therapy to remove lead from the eagle’s system, the lead caused long-term neurological damage affecting the bird’s ability to maintain flight and to survive in the wild.
This beautiful eagle is now a bird ambassador at Christine’s Critters and goes by the name Aquila, the astronomical constellation of the Eagle.
As a bird ambassador Aquila creates awareness about the insidious threat lead poisoning brings to birds of prey, and other wildlife.
And serves as encouragement for us to create a non-lead future.