Lead Poisoning and Eagles

I picked up the eagle and am waiting for my rehabber friends to call me back, but it is fading fast. Looks like lead poisoning. This is why we should switch to steel shot. Nothing worse than watching a raptor die of lead poisoning!!! Lead poisoning was the factor that almost wiped out the California condor and was instrumental in California switching to steel shot. Vultures, eagles, corvids (ravens and crows) are highly susceptible to this because they feed on carrion. But young raptors of most species and struggling adults will also feed on carrion if food is scarce. Hunters do not like steel because it does not carry as far or fly as straight, but it does not impact the environment as horribly as lead does. We have to worry about ingesting the lead pellets ourselves and be affected by lead poisoning. I would talk to your hunting friends and also write your representative in the Senate and Congress. If you hunt yourself, please change to steel if you haven’t already. This also includes lead sinkers in fishing. There have been a lot of changes made, but we are still not there yet.
I did some checking. In 2004, New York State banned the “sale” of lead fishing sinkers weighing one half ounce of less. These sinkers may be confused with grit and eaten by waterfowl and moved into the food web. In 2011, use of lead shot for waterfowl was prohibited in NYS. But this does not include every state and only for waterfowl, not rabbits or upland game species (I.e. turkey, grouse, pheasant, etc…).A study had been conducted in the 80’s and the publication that resulted in 1984 stated that it was estimated that 6,000 metric tons of lead shot was annually shot into our lakes, marshes and estruaries; this represented about 6,440 pellets per bird shot. California passed the use of lead ammunition in Condor range by 2007. Twenty-six states have regulated the use of lead shot for upland species by November 2011.

Lead poisoning and its symptoms:

  • When ingested in large enough quantities, lead has detrimental effects on the nervous and reproductive systems of mammals and birds
  • Eagles frequently scavenge carcasses of deer, pheasants and other wildlife that may harbor lead or lead fragments
  • Live prey impaired by lead ingestion, such as waterfowl, become easy targets for eagles
  • Eagles with lead poisoning may exhibit loss of balance, gasping, tremors and impaired ability to fly
  • Emaciation follows and death can occur within 2 to 3 weeks after lead ingestion

How hunters can voluntarily help reduce lead poisoning:

  • Select only non-toxic shot for all small game shotgun hunting (lead shot is already prohibited for waterfowl hunting but optional for other small game)
  • Select non-toxic slugs or bullets for deer hunting
  • If lead ammunition is used, recover and remove all shot game from the field
  • Hide gut piles and remains of butchered carcasses by burying or covering with rocks and/or brush
  • Remove slugs, bullets or fragments from gut piles