Bald Eagles and Lead Toxicity 2017

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can be lethal to all animals. High levels can cause seizures, coma, and sometimes death. Even low levels in children cause developmental delays that persist into adulthood, and the Center for Disease Control states that there is "no safe blood level."

X-ray of a lead poisoned bald eagle showing lead fragments (bright white) from ingested prey

Because an estimated one million ducks and geese were lost annually from accidentally ingested lead hunting ammunition, the federal government instituted a national ban on the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991. However, lead is still routinely used in other types of ammunition and fishing tackle, and lead poisoning is still seen in wild birds, particularly bald eagles and Canada geese. Birds can pick up lead from the environment or in carcasses that have been shot with lead ammunition. With NYSDEC biologist Kevin Hynes, we tested tissue samples from almost 300 New York bald eagle mortalities that he examined over a 20 year period. We found 17% of the eagles died from lead poisoning and overall 83% had some exposure to lead.