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Nearly half of bald and golden eagles in the US have chronic lead poisoning, most likely from bullet fragments
  • A new study shows that nearly half of bald and golden eagles in the US have chronic lead poisoning.

  • Eagles are scavengers and carry lead fragments from bullets.

  • Population growth is threatened by lead poisoning.

During hunting season in the winter, hunters shoot deer or eagles, then take the waste.

According to a study published in the journal Science, eagles may be at risk from that meal.

Bald eagles and golden eagles were found to have high rates of lead poisoning. Their findings show that eagles are eating lead fragments from carcasses.

It only takes a tiny fragment, something, for a lead bullet to break into many pieces when it hits a deer.

The researchers looked at the blood, bone, and feathers of more than 1,200 eagles. Almost half of bald eagles and almost half of golden eagles had signs of lead poisoning. Birds with chronic or repeated exposure to lead can develop diseases.

lead bullets
Copper bullet (left) versus lead core bullet (right) before and after impact.Mike McTee

Lead poisoning threatens the growth of eagle species. The population growth of bald eagles and golden eagles was slowed by lead poisoning.

Thousands and thousands of eagles are being removed from the population over a 20-year period.

Neither golden eagles nor bald eagles are in danger. The US bald eagle population has more than tripled since 2009. The US golden eagle population is at risk of declining, but is still relatively small.

The role of that lead is more important for the golden eagle populations because they are so small.

Eagle X-rays show lead fragments inside their bodies

Scientists have known about lead exposure for a long time.

eagles end up in a rehabilitation facility a lot They get X-rayed when they are sick and you can see fragments of lead in their stomach.

Researchers hadn't been able to quantify how dangerous or widespread lead exposure was among US eagles.

Radiograph of a bald eagle
Radiograph of a bald eagle that ingested lead fragments.The Raptor Center, University of Minnesota

We got samples from Alaska down to Florida, from Maine to California, so we really had this wide sample size that is reflective of this nationwide pattern that we are seeing in these birds.

Adult eagles have more opportunities to be exposed to lead poisoning than younger eagles.

Several eagles may have had a brief exposure to high levels of lead, which may have caused acute poisoning. Some eagles with acute lead poisoning suffer quick deaths, sometimes before developing symptoms, but the researchers did not track whether these birds survived. eagle species had less access to their standard food sources in the winter, which made them more prone to acute poisoning.

In the winter season, theeagles become less abundant and their feeding habits change.

The study found that up to 34% of bald eagles and 34% of golden eagles had signs of lead poisoning.

There was no chance that eagles had been exposed by getting shot themselves.

A small number of eagles were shot, but we never took samples from any tissue that could have been exposed.

Slabe said he expects a lot of hunters to switch from lead to non-lead bullets once they find out they are poisoning animals.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife requires hunters to use non-lead bullets. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services advises hunters to do the same.

The original article is on Business Insider.

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