Bald eagles dying from chronic lead poison

By Simer Dhume

Bald eagles dying from chronic lead poison, an overview of the study.

  • Nearly half of bald and golden eagles in the US have chronic lead poisoning.
  • Eagles scavenge the remains of hunted animals, like deer, carrying lead fragments from bullets.
  • Lead poisoning threatens to slow their population growth.

Rover, the Bald Eagle, spotted in Central Park in early February, 2022 | Picture credit: Steve Hubbard

Bald eagles are dying from chronic lead poison, a new study shows. In a first-of-its-kind, an eight-year study has found widespread and frequent lead poisoning in North American bald and golden eagles. Impacting both species’ populations,” reports USGS, an official website of the United States Government.

Raptor Center’s medical report on lead poison among bald and golden eagle

Lead, a naturally occurring element with no functional role in a plant or animal’s system, is highly toxic to birds.

Subsequently, the Raptor Center’s medical clinic reports over 150 injured and ill bald eagles each year. On average, 25-30% of these eagles are documented to have lead toxicity. Sadly, most of these majestic birds die or are humanely euthanized to alleviate their extreme suffering.

Did you know?

In 2007, the U.S. government removed bald eagles from the Endangered Species list. Unfortunately, new research suggests a high incidence of lead poisoning to impede their population growth.

Bald eagles dying from chronic lead poison

Bald eagles dying from chronic lead poison | Photo credit: William McReynolds

Keep reading. You don’t want to miss the information available in the following paragraphs.

First, let’s dive into the research published in the journal Science. To answer compelling questions, like:

  • To what degree do researchers’ find lead exposure to the bald and golden eagles’ X-rays?
  • Learn ways to stop lead consumption among bald and golden eagles.

Why is the new study the first of its kind?

  • It’s the first study of lead poisoning of wildlife nationwide. The data collected indicates the unseen challenges facing these birds of prey.

“We now know more about how leaders in our environment are negatively impacting North America’s eagles,” said Todd Katzner, USGS wildlife biologist, and authority USGS author.

  • Scientists have known about lead exposure in eagles for several decades. Therefore, it’s not news.
  • But until the new study, researchers hadn’t been able to quantify how dangerous or widespread lead exposure was among US eagles.
lead bullets
Copper bullet (left) versus lead core bullet (right) before and after impact | Photo credit: Mike McTee

Next up, let’s find out what we know from the study. The image above will help you understand the difference between using a copper bullet versus a lead core bullet while hunting. Which bullet is better for the environment and can help save birds of prey from consuming ammunition.

What do we know from the study?

  • Experimenters examined the blood, bone, liver, and feathers of more than 1,200 eagles across 38 US states. 
  • Of that sample, 47% of bald eagles and 46% of golden eagles had signs of chronic lead poisoning.
  • Birds with chronic or repeated exposure to lead can develop lesions or cysts—further causing weakness while flying or seizures and paralysis.
  • What’s more, lead poisoning threatens to hinder the growth of eagle species.
  • The researchers estimated that lead poisoning slowed the annual population growth of bald eagles by 4% and golden eagles by 1%. 

“The role of lead consumption is probably greater for golden eagle populations, just because these populations are so much smaller and they’re in a more precarious situation,” Katzner said.

Bald eagles dying of lead, how?

Stay with me as I try to answer this critical question

  • It’s true. And a familiar pattern during hunting season in the winter: Hunters shoot elk or deer; then eagles scavenge the waste.
  • “Every single time a lead bullet hits a deer, it fragments into many, many pieces.”
  • What’s more, “It only takes a tiny fragment, something the size of the head of a pin, to kill an eagle.”
  • The findings suggest that eagles are ingesting lead fragments from bullets in animal carcasses left behind by hunters.

Lastly, let’s get to the bottom of the whole issue.

Bald eagles are dying of lead poisoning. What’s the solution to the problem?

Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem. There are many practical, non-lead alternatives to lead-based ammunition, with more coming on the market every year.

Here’s what people who like to hunt need to do to make a difference in the lives of eagles or other birds of prey.

Replace lead ammunition with a non-lead option – like copper bullets. A responsible choice that’ll eliminate eagle exposure and other wildlife to a potent toxin.

In addition, it also results in a safer food source for humans. As hunting with lead, bullets have resulted in venison. Therefore, consumption being contaminated with lead.

Hence, the only way to curb the issue of lead contamination for humans and, to a greater extent, the birds of prey is to switch to non-lead options while hunting.

Final word.

Hunters, once educated, would voluntarily stop using lead ammunition.

“Hunters are very receptive to this issue. They are the solution to this problem, said Vincent A. Slabe, the study’s lead author and a research wildlife biologist for Conservation Science Global in Montana.

So are you ready to take action against the ongoing hunting practice while using toxic ammunition? Do your bit to save the eagles.


Wall Street Journal

Business Insider

The Raptor Center

Editor’s note- Hints Of Life strives to bring you positive news from the world of Nature. In addition, we are sharing important, essential information from wildlife and environmental happenings. Read more from our ‘Nature news‘ section today.

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