Lead bullets poisoning bald eagles, researchers say
By Jacki Billings
A bald eagle suffers from lead poisoning at the Blue Mountain Wildlife Center in Pendleton, Oregon. (Photo: Lynn Tompkins via AP)
Wildlife researchers say lead from bullets and shotgun pellets left inside carcasses by hunters are killing America’s symbolic bird.
State wildlife researchers in New York, who have studied bald eagle restoration for 40 years, are reporting an increased number of eagle deaths due to lead poisoning in recent years. Rehabilitators in Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia and other states are also seeing rising numbers of eagles testing positive for lead.
Wildlife experts blame lead bullets left inside animal carcasses as the reason behind the uptick in eagle deaths. According to researchers, eagles and other scavengers eat the carcasses of prey shot by hunters which often contains bits of lead bullets. These pieces are consumed along with the meat and break down quickly in the eagle’s stomach, leading to an increased lead level in the animal’s bloodstream. Elevated levels cause blindness, paralysis, loss of appetite, neurological issues and death.
“Many hunters don’t realize that as much as 50 percent of a bullet may remain in the deer as fragments,” Ed Clark, president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, told the Associated Press. “A sliver the size